A flock of British schoolboys filed into the All England Lawn Tennis Club on Wednesday giddy about the chance to brag to their mates about having seen the great Tim Henman in person.
Sadly for them, 20-year-old Mario Ancic, pegged as a rising talent on the men's tour, chose this day -- his first on Wimbledon's Centre Court -- to blossom full force and bounce Henman from the tournament, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-2. Ancic, from Croatia, advanced to Friday's semifinals, while the 29-year-old Henman failed to win his sport's greatest prize for the 11th consecutive year.
Along with the schoolboys, among those sad to see Henman depart was American Andy Roddick, who also advanced to the semifinals with a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (11-9), 6-3 victory over Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands. Had Wednesday's action followed the seeding, Roddick would have faced Henman rather than Ancic in the semis. While the task of facing Britain's national hero on Centre Court would fill most players with dread, Roddick admitted he was intrigued with the idea.
"You know, obviously no one would have been for me," Roddick conceded. "But at the same time, it would have been maybe a cool experience, you know."
Roddick has yet to drop a set in the tournament but was sorely tested by Schalken, who kept him on the run by hitting deep to the corners. The 6-foot-4 Dutchman doesn't have as powerful a serve as Roddick, but he placed it shrewdly, forcing tiebreakers in the first two sets.
The second tiebreaker proved the turning point in the match. Schalken had three set points, but Roddick came up with a service winner and a 146-mph ace to stave off the first two. Trailing 9-8, Roddick fended off the third with a blistering forehand down the line.
"I didn't want him to get a look at it," Roddick recounted, "so I said, 'Okay, here we go! Let's give it a ride and see what happens.' "
In the Henman-Ancic match, the first-set tiebreaker also ended up being pivotal. Ancic raised his play after that, while Henman never recovered. "There's no question that the better player won on the day," Henman said.
Between the Raindrops
Wednesday's play was halted for rain three times, but there were enough dry spells to complete the six quarterfinals that were scheduled.
The best tennis was produced by defending champion Roger Federer and seventh-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, the only two former Wimbledon champions left in the draw. Federer prevailed 6-1, 6-7 (7-1), 6-0, 6-4, but not without dropping his first set of the tournament and having his serve broken for the first time at Wimbledon in 89 service games. Federer will face Sebastien Grosjean of France in Friday's other semifinal.