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Crowd, Henman Ensure Uncommon Wimbledon

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 1997; Page D1

WIMBLEDON, England, June 29 — They wore dishwasher detergent boxes perched on their heads and tennis balls made into earrings. They did the wave, sang football chants, and frequently failed to fall silent on serve. They cheered in mid-point. They cheered double faults.

A week's worth of rain forced Wimbledon officials to open their gates to the commoners on this, Wimbledon's usual rest day. But the All England Club did schedule the closest thing this country has to tennis royalty — Tim Henman — for its premier match on Centre Court. And in an atmosphere unlike anything the usually staid Centre Court has hosted, Henman triumphed over Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, 6-7 (9-7), 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 14-12, in a match that lasted 3 hours 58 minutes and left the chair umpire hoarse from having to repeatedly request silence from the crowd.

Henman, a quarterfinalist last year, was the people's man playing on People's Day at Wimbledon, where the line for cut-rate tickets stretched more than three miles, four abreast, before the gates opened this morning. As a result, even the raucousness of the first time Wimbledon scheduled matches for the middle Sunday — in 1991 — paled in comparison to the response given Henman, the Oxford-born 22-year-old who already has his face on billboards all over town.

"I don't think you can get a better atmosphere in any sport," Henman said. "And being British, playing today on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, and saving match point, and winning 14-12 in the fifth — well, what can you say?"

While it's been a great tournament for the Brits (who also got a victory from Greg Rusedski today), it's been a terrible one for the Americans. With third-round action not yet completed, three of 14 U.S. men remain — No. 1 Pete Sampras, who plays Monday, as well as Alex O'Brien and Richey Reneberg. Of 20 American women in the draw, only No. 2 Monica Seles and No. 11 Mary Joe Fernandez have a chance of advancing to the fourth round.

No. 5 Lindsay Davenport was the latest American upset victim, falling to Denisa Chladkova of the Czech Republic, 7-5, 6-2, in a second-round match.

Davenport was not alone when it came to upsets in the women's draw. No 6 Amanda Coetzer, No. 7 Anke Huber, No. 10 Conchita Martinez, No. 14 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy and No. 16 Barbara Paulus all were defeated today, Huber by 16-year-old Anna Kournikova.

But the top four women's seeds — Martina Hingis, Seles, Jana Novotna and Iva Majoli — won today, as Wimbledon finished its seventh day 18 matches behind in singles' action, a vast improvement over where the tournament was just two days ago.

Tournament officials were thrilled with the progress, and the locals were even more thrilled to be given another People's Sunday. As on any other day, the chair umpire prefaced the Henman match with the standard request that all mobile phones be turned off during play. But he had to shout over the crowd noise, and the warning hardly seemed necessary.

These were not mobile phone people.

These were people who camped in pup tents all night, people who wore ripped jeans and painted the St. George cross on any bare skin. One man bounced around with a box of green soap crystals glued to his straw hat. Drawing the crowd's attention with his headgear, he started the first round of the Wave, which lasted for the entire warmup period. Even inhabitants of the Royal Box, full for the first time this tournament, participated.

"It gives you an amazing sort of buzz," said Henman, who got a standing ovation every time he took the court, and heard his named chanted during changeovers. "I wouldn't have thought there were too many empty seats, and to have virtually all of them screaming your name ... I wonder whether I'll ever experience that again."

Henman disappointed his compatriots in the first set, when he blew six set points — three on double faults. All that was long forgotten, though, by the time the match moved into the fifth set. The air grew chilly, the cloud cover grew darker and the crowd's ability to remain silent during points grew weaker and weaker.

Terror seemed to strike the crowd after the ninth game, when Haarhuis broke Henman, then served for the match. On his first — and only — match point, Haarhuis double-faulted. Then, with catcalls coming while he tossed up the ball for service, Haarhuis double-faulted again to give Henman the advantage, and hit a forehand into the net to tie the match, 5-5.

"The English give good support," Haarhuis said, "but that didn't make me lose."

Haarhuis knows what it's like to play in unfriendly environs — he faced Jimmy Connors in the middle of his miracle U.S. Open run in 1991. Haarhuis also is the man who once upset John McEnroe at the U.S. Open and made this proclamation to those seeking background on him: "I am Paul Haarhuis, and I am from Mars."

Today, Haarhuis seemed to get energized as the match went on, while Henman — perhaps tired and perhaps worn down by his country's incredible expectations — seemed to drag. Henman failed to convert his first match point in the 24th game but rallied on Haarhuis's next service, when he broke the Dutchman at love.

It was only the third round of the tournament, but that did not seem to matter to the crowd, which went wild, blowing kisses and screaming his name. Henman has been beloved since he made it to Wimbledon quarterfinals last summer, catapulting himself onto English cereal boxes and margarine labels, clothing lines and the side of a double-decker bus.

To reach the quarterfinals again, Henman next must beat Richard Krajicek, the defending champion, in a fourth-round meeting.

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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