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Wimbledon rocks for Henman British star advances in 4-hour marathon

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- They unfurled Union Jacks, wore wacky hats, painted their faces, cheered double faults and did the wave at Centre Court.

L Yesterday, Wimbledon was taken over by the tennis commoners.

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And the tournament was seized by a 22-year-old born-in-Britain star named Tim Henman.

Henman out-slugged and outlasted Paul Haarhuis, 6-7 (7-9), 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 14-12, in a 3-hour, 58-minute match that brought tennis theater back to Wimbledon.

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This was Wimbledon on the "People's Sunday," as organizers opened the gates to the masses on the middle Sunday for the second time in history in a bid to clear up a backlog of rain-delayed matches.

It was first-come, first-seated, as the ticket line stretched five miles.

By the time Henman and Haarhuis reached Centre Court for their third-round match, the stadium was packed with fans doing the wave.

It was so loud, the players couldn't even hear their shots in the warm-up.

"From the word go, it was something I've never experienced," Henman said. "The noise was at a totally different level. I always go on court to play for myself. But I realized I couldn't have had any more support."

Around here, HenmanMania is rampant.

He advertises breakfast cereal. His face shows up on billboards. Reporters camp out around his house and write about his relationship with his girlfriend.

And the tennis teeny-boppers adore him.

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So does the Wimbledon establishment, for the Henman family has long been a part of the All England Club.

But on this day, Henman was a "people's champion," lauded by fans who normally can't get within miles of Centre Court.

The crowd turned this tennis match into a soccer game, standing, clapping and shouting in unison, "Henman! Henman!"

"To have virtually all of them screaming your name, I'm wondering if I'll ever experience that again," Henman said.

Haarhuis was not intimidated. The Dutchman, after all, has met John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors under the lights at the U.S. Open in New York.

"I think against Connors was more of a chilling experience," Haarhuis said. "I mean, the English are a great crowd, so they really give good support. But that didn't make me lose."

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Henman wasn't spectacular. He wasn't even all that steady, double-faulting three times while wasting six set points in losing the opening set.

But Henman refused to lose, chipping away at Haarhuis with a chip backhand.

In the end, it was Haarhuis who gave away the match. Up 5-4 in the final set, serving at match point, he double-faulted.

The crowd roared.

Haarhuis double-faulted again.

More cheers.

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And when Haarhuis punched a volley into the net to lose his serve, the Centre Court crowd stood and cheered as Henman looked up to the gloomy sky.

"There are doubts creeping in at a time like that, but you have to keep believing in yourself," Henman said. "Once we got back on serve, we weren't creating a great deal of opportunities. It's just then that you've got to keep telling yourself to do the right things."

For nearly an hour, the players slugged it out. And in the 26th and final game, Henman jumped all over Haarhuis' serves, cracking three magnificent returns to get to match point.

Finally, Henman hit one last forehand passing shot down the line, and Centre Court was hit by a clap of thunder, the sound of a crowd cheering for a British star.

To Henman, it sounded as if the roof were coming off Wimbledon.

"It's definitely the best match I've ever won," he said.

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Next up for Henman, though, is defending champion Richard Krajicek, who defeated David Rikl, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.

Krajicek said he'll be ready for the noise.

"I think 50-50 the crowd will be for me, maybe 51-49," Krajicek said, trying to get a laugh from the British media.

"Yes, it will be interesting. Against Henman, you play on the show court and you have the crowd against you."

The way Haarhuis sees it, Henman's run is about to end.

"If Henman gets by Richard [Krajicek], that's a big obstacle," Haarhuis said. "I played Richard last week. I played Tim now. I think Richard is in better shape."

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Pub Date: 6/30/97


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