Tim Henman has identified both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as his favourites to win Wimbledon after the Scot was blessed with some early fortune when he avoided a tricky potential quarter-final meeting with Rafael Nadal following yesterday’s draw.
Instead, Roger Federer and Nadal, controversially ranked No 5 seed in the tournament, are set to face each other in the last eight at SW19, after being included, along with Murray, in the bottom half of the draw. The Scot can only meet Djokovic in the final. “Federer and Nadal in the same quarter, that’s a big talking point,” said Henman, who knows how much luck can play a part in smoothing one’s passage to the final. Henman cursed the heavens for the rain that saw his semi-final encounter with Goran Ivanisevic stretch into a third day in 2001, something which helped switch momentum from him to his Croatian opponent.
Henman selected No 1 seed Djokovic as the main beneficiary after yesterday’s draw, since he will avoid the other three making up the ‘top four’ until the final, if he plays them at all. “Djokovic obviously will be most pleased with how the draw has come out,” said Henman, who was speaking in Edinburgh yesterday, while competing in the Brodies Champions of Tennis event held at Raeburn Place.
“For those matches to happen, for the draw to impact on players, those players have to get into the quarters, and Andy has to get into the semis in order to play one of them,” he added.
Murray must first negotiate a path past world number 95 Benjamin Becker in the first round. “It [the draw] does not really have much impact until deep into the second week,” said Henman. “Fingers crossed those match ups happen, because it would be brilliant to watch.”
While tennis tends to follow the pattern set by seedings, Nadal is a clear danger to Federer, who is on course to face the Spaniard in the last four, and also Murray, who could play Nadal or Federer in the semis. However, the memory of Nadal’s shock exit at the second round stage last year remains a vivid one, since his defeat to the little known Lukas Rosol was one of the matches of the tournament.
“If it can happen once, it can happen again,” said Henman. “But given the consistency of the top four players, that was why it was such a big shock. The depth is so strong, there is no doubt they have to be on their game all the time. If they don’t turn up ready to play that is what can happen. It really emphasises how dominant they [Nadal, Federer and Djokovic] have been when you look at grand slam champions in the last nine years. Only Murray and [Juan Martin] del Potro has got in on the action; that has never happened in any other era.”
It is Murray’s misfortune that he is playing at a time when three all-time greats of the game are vying to win titles, although he has at least broken his grand slam duck, at the US Open last year. The one that means most to the British public is Wimbledon, however, and, Henman, more than anyone else, knows how it feels to carry that particular burden on his shoulders.
“When you analyse the psychology of it, pressure is all self-inflicted,” he reflected. “If he was focusing on what was being written in the papers and what is being said in the crowd then he would not be able to play at all, there would be too much pressure. Therefore, with the right mindset, it really does not have any bearing at all.”
Henman’s ploy was to read the papers only once a year, at Christmas. His mother would set them all out in front of him, and he would laugh at the more hysterical reports, and dismiss the most harshly critical ones.
“I basically advised Andy to ignore everything that is said about him from the start,” said Henman, who has always been close to Murray, and whose counsel the Scot values hugely. Henman is glad to feel the strength of support that Murray is commanding now, after some disquiet about the impartial nature of the Centre Court crowd when the Scot battled with the popular Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, and slipped to agonising, and tearful, defeat.
“In some respects I find it a little bit sad that it takes him crying after his Wimbledon final for people to look at him and say ‘wow he does care’,” said Henman.” He has always had good support but I think that was the turning point for him.
“On the back of that, then the Olympic title, when you reflect on the crowd in the Wimbledon final you could pretty much say that was 50/50, because Roger is pretty much the most popular player there has ever been.
“But when you moved it forward four weeks, it was 90/10 in favour of Andy. Does that make a difference? Maybe a tiny very small percentage, but they can all add up.”