COMMENT: Tim Henman’s eagerness to return to tennis must be embraced

Kevin Palmer
Tim Henman at Wimbledon

Tim Henman was a player who never got the credit he deserved, says Kevin Palmer, so we should all be delighted at his apparent eagerness to return to tennis.

As introductions go, it was a pretty shoddy start from the normally immaculate Tim Henman, yet we should all be toasting his presence as captain of Team GB at the inaugural ATP Cup in Australia.

Henman’s first duty on his return to mainstream tennis was to introduce his team to a social media audience, but his first attempt flopped badly as Dan Evans and Jamie Murray were among those left to laugh at his expense.

It was a lovely moment to start the tennis year for a returning hero who is clearly opening his mind to playing a more active role in a sport he did so much to promote in the UK during a career that was ludicrously ridiculed by uneducated part-time tennis watchers.

As was the case with Andy Murray during the period of his career when he was knocking on the door of the game’s biggest prizes and coming up agonisingly short against the game’s very best, Henman found himself cast as a ‘loser’ by an English media pack and a general public whose interest in tennis has a tendency to start on the opening day of Wimbledon and end with the final on Centre Court.

It’s hard to acquire any level of tennis expertise when your sphere of reference is based around a solitary tournament and that helped to ensure that Henman’s impressive achievements in the game were never given the plaudits they merited in the UK.

Runs to the semi-finals of the US Open and the French Open along with victory in the 2003 Paris Masters cemented Henman’s legacy as one of the most respected performers on the ATP Tour, with his success in draining every last ounce from the natural talents he was given an achievement that should have attracted more vocal acclaim.

Henman’s retirement in 2007 brought about another round of lament from his detractors as they reflected on his disappointments rather than his success of staying at the top of the game for a decade, with his activity in the sport in the years since he played his final match in a Davis Cup tie at Wimbledon allowing him to take more of a backseat role.

Aside from his appearances on the BBC Wimbledon coverage and occasional events for his sponsors, Henman has focused his attention on his work as one of the key decision-makers at the All England Club and has turned down some high profile coaching offers that could have kept him involved in the game at the top level.

Now Henman appears to ready to make a comeback, of sorts, after being convinced by Andy Murray to lead the British team at the ATP Cup and as former British Davis Cup player Mark Petchey told Tennis365, his reappearance should be welcomed.

“It’s great to see him getting back into tennis a little more,” Petchey told us. “He has always had a wise head on his shoulders and it will be a great addition to the game if he does return in a more official capacity.

“He will not rush into anything and the role he has played at Wimbledon in the last few years has obviously been a huge help to that tournament and the steps forward made on a number of levels. He could be chairman of the All England Club at some point, but maybe he wants to get back into tennis in a bigger way and his involvement with the ATP Cup will allow him to get back involved.

“You only need to be at the tournaments when Tim is around and you can see how much respect he has from all the former champions. He may not have won a major himself, but he got everything out of his game in his career and tennis better for him being back into it.”

Petchey’s comments will be echoed by all in the tennis family as Henman’s professionalism on the court has always been matched by his dignified class off it.

British tennis needs a giant of Henman’s gravitas to play a prominent role in its future and if he is open to the prospect in 2020, all involved in the game need to ensure they tap into his huge pool of knowledge.

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