I’ve just watched Tim Henman getting knocked out of the Monte Carlo masters series event and it was quite a match.
For most people their only exposure to tennis is Wimbledon in the summer. As far as they’re concerned that is the only tennis tournament in the world and all tennis is played on grass courts. This is of course bollocks.
These pros spend most of the year playing in tournaments all over the world on all sorts of different surfaces (and only about two or three on grass courts, by the way). SW19 followers won’t have heard of players like Alex Corretja, Juan-Carlo Ferrero or Carlos Moya. But these guys are predominantly clay court players and are masters of that surface. Whereas grass courts are very fast and a rally lasts perhaps two strokes, clay court tennis is slow work and players have to earn the right to win every point (I’ve seen 60 stroke rallies point after point).
Pete Sampras may have been an excellent grass court player, but he was always terrible on clay. You can’t play a serve-volley game on clay and win. He proved that point – as the best serve-volleyer of his time he still couldn’t trouble your average Spaniard clay court specialist. So the point is that to win on all surfaces you need to be able to play several different variations of tennis. And Henman has always fallen into the fast court category of player, never really troubling on clay.
All that changed last year. Suddenly he seemed in less of a rush to play from the net. He would play long rallies and pounce when the moment was right (it was always cringe-inducing to watch Sampras running into the net on every point on clay to be repeatedly passed on either side by his opponent). Tim may not have won any tournaments on clay but he was getting better. Well, this week in the Monte Carlo (on clay) he stepped it up.
He was awesome. To watch him you’d think he’d grown up playing on that surface and had never even seen a blade of grass. He wasn’t hitting power serves – there’s no point, the surface takes all the speed off. He was patient. His ground strokes were solid and precise. His net play, when needed, was superb (there’s no doubt that he’s taken over from Sampras as the best serve-volleyer in the business, so his net play ain’t bad). Gone were the momentary lapses in concentration that used to plague him. Had he won the tournament he’d have risen to number one in the champions race, which shows you how well he’s playing this season.
I’ve got a great deal of admiration and respect for Tim. He may not be a great entertainer on the court, but he’s a warrior and never gives up. He’s worked really hard to get where he is today, hours in the gym and on the practise court, to let him defy the doubters. Through his own hard work he’s no longer a one-dimensional, predictable player. He may not have won a Grand Slam yet, but I’m confident he will some day.
To see him battling against Carlos Moya (a seasoned veteran on clay) in the semi-final and be the better player for a lot of the match was incredible. It was the most tense match I’ve ever watched, had me on tenterhooks all the way through, and I’m normally a very calm guy. I was virtually falling off the edge of my seat while watching. He may not have won, but he’s put the hammer down to a lot of other players out there that he’s a force to be reckoned with on any surface. He’s got the skills to pay the bills indeed…
Roll on Wimbledon.