<
>

Henman: Wimbledon middle Sunday is one of tennis' best days

WIMBLEDON, London -- Tim Henman has told today's generation of players to expect "one of the best days in tennis" when Wimbledon holds a 'People's Sunday' for only the fourth time in the tournament's 139-year history.

Twice the former British No.1 benefited from the break in tradition at the All England Club, and won matches that he arguably would have lost if they had been played in front of regular, more subdued crowds.

The rain during The Championships so far this year may have put a damper on proceedings but it has forced another day's play and Henman, now on Wimbledon's organising committee, said those playing on Sunday should expect an atmosphere that would more than make up for it.

More than anyone else in tennis, he knows how the All England Club is at its loudest, its most raucous, and its wildest, when the gates are opened to the public on what is supposed to be a fallow day for the grass and the players.

"It's going to be so inspiring and amazing for the players on Sunday," Henman told ESPN. "It will be something very few of them -- if any of them -- have experienced before.

"The matches I played on Middle Sunday at Wimbledon, they were played in two of the best atmospheres of my career. It was just so different."

The first time that Henman experienced the extra day of play at Wimbledon -- and the closest that the Englishman ever came to feeling like a rock star on the grass -- was in 1997 when he won a five-setter against Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, taking the final set 14-12.

Every time Henman won a point, the crowd made so much noise that he worried whether the Centre Court roof, then just a rim around the stadium, would stay on.

When else but on a 'People's Sunday' would the guests in the Royal Box join in with the Mexican wave sweeping around Centre Court?

Henman also featured on the Middle Sunday in 2004 when the crowd carried him to a four-set victory over Morocco's Hicham Arazi.

As well as being the patron saint of Wimbledon's rain delays, Henman is also the face -- and clenched fist -- of 'People's Sunday'. The only other occasion that tennis was played on a Middle Sunday, and this pre-dated Henman's career, was in 1991.

"It's going to a very special day, with lots of noise from the crowd. I'm sure there will be Mexican waves, too, all that," he said.

"I understand from the tournament's point of view that it''s difficult to organise, but from the fans' and players' point of view, it's one of the best days in tennis.

"The previous three occasions, the tickets went to people who queued. This time it will all be online, but it will be the same principle."

So, why not have a 'People's Sunday' every year? "This can't happen," Henman said at an HSBC event. "That's what people don't understand and also what they need to understand. The courts usually couldn't take being used on the Middle Sunday.

"Most years, after six days of play, you need a day without play on the Sunday. But this year they haven't had much play."