Pride still burns bright for Henman

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski will walk on to the blue cement of Flushing Meadows next week like two ageing gunslingers for what could be their final shoot-out.

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski will walk on to the blue cement of Flushing Meadows next week like two ageing gunslingers for what could be their final shoot-out.

Neither is seeded. Neither has a realistic chance of winning the US Open. These days flying the British flag is the preserve of 17th seed Andy Murray.

But pride and honour ensure Henman and Rusedski will provide an intriguing first-round encounter even if the end of their careers is fast approaching.

The pair share the same birthday. Rusedski will turn 33 and Henman 32 on September 6, although neither is likely to be around on what will be US Open quarter-finals day considering the winner of their match almost certainly will face Roger Federer in the second round.

Federer’s humbling of Henman in the second round at Wibledon this year was a milestone in the Briton’s career. It told him the game was up.

He could no longer live at the sharpest end of tennis, even if he had reached the US Open semi-final as recently as 2004 when he also lost to Federer.

A fierce pride, however, burns in Henman and he still shows fleeting flashes o the sort of form which once earned him a world ranking of number four.

He beat Wimbledon semi-finalist Jonas Bjorkman in Toronto earlier this month and while he has lost three times this year to Murray he could have easily won their latest encounter in the Cincinnati Masters.

Henman won the first set but eventually lost out 4-6 6-4 7-5.

Henman said: “The difference between winning and losing was just a point here and there.

“I felt I played well and I feel I’m hitting the ball well but not capitalising on my chances, which makes a huge difference. It’s frustrating.”

In the decade in which they have dominated British tennis Henman and Rusedski have played nine times with Henman leading 7-2.

A measure of Henman’s dominance is that Rusedski has not won one of their matches since 1998, while Rusedski’s current form can be gauged by the fact he has lost eight of his last nine matches on tour.

Both appear to be in steady and irreversible decline but at least Henman can take solace in the fact that his legacy includes the inspiring of Murray, who at 19 has broken into the world’s top 20.

Murray said: “Tim is someone that I’ve looked up to immensely. I watched him for eight, nine years when I was growing up, playing at Wimbledon.

“And still when I come off the court having won against him it’s a little bit surreal.

“Regardless of what people say because he hasn’t won a grand slam, he’s one of the best tennis players of the last 10 years.”

Four Wimbledon semi-finals and one each at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows are testament to Henman’s quality.

As for Rusedski, his finest hour came in 1997 when he lost in four sets to Pat Rafter in the final of the US Open, the first British man to contest a grand slam singles final since John Lloyd lost to Vitas Gerulaitis in 1977.

Apart from that, the man born in Canada has gone as far as the quarter-final of a grand slam only once, at Wimbledon, also in 1997.

The pair have never been pals. If it is their last match you can be sure both will want to claim the final bragging rights.

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