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Get best athletes to play tennis: Tim Henman

Monday, 13 January 2014 - 8:28am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
In Mumbai to spot talent, former World No. 4 Tim Henman of England talks to Rutvick Mehta about paucity of top singles players in India, star coaches among other subjects. Excerpts:

You are back in India, where your career took off in 1994 winning 18 matches in a row. How do you look at the level of talent now in India as compared to 20 years ago?
With the three-four days we've had in Delhi and now in Mumbai, you can see there's a lot of talent. There are a lot of players – both boys and girls – who hit the ball very well. The two areas that we believe in focussing on is mental and physical to really understand the levels and how they have to come out on the court from the first minute – not after 10 minutes, not after 20 shots – but from the first ball, to be physically and mentally ready. That's the challenge.

India have just one singles player at the top level in Somdev Devvarman. Most choose to focus on doubles after a certain point. What would it take for India to produce more top singles players?
If they are going to doubles, it's simply because they are not good enough in singles. A vast majority of doubles players are not good enough to play singles. Yes, they need to have better levels. But the challenge in India is very similar to that in the UK in that a lot of your best athletes play cricket. A lot of our best athletes play football, cricket or rugby. We need to get more of our best athletes playing tennis. If we do that, we'll have great players. Take Andy Murray as an example. If you give him a ball to throw or kick or catch, he's very good at it. And, he plays tennis, that's why he's such a good player. Federer, Djokovic and Nadal are all great athletes

Leander Paes is winning Grand Slams at 40. Age doesn't seem to bother him...
It's doubles, isn't it. You can't compare doubles to singles. But if he's still enjoying it, then good luck to him. I've played him many times and I think those guys are lucky because none of the singles players can really play doubles.

Now to the Australian Open... Djokovic has almost got a dream draw, while Nadal is coming off a dream 2013. Who are you betting on?
Djokovic is the favourite. Those two are the clear favourites. There's a little bit of a question mark over Murray after having the back surgery. Federer hasn't had the consistency but I still think he can have a great run. Can Del Potro, Berdych, Tsonga or Wawrinka make the breakthrough? That's why we're going to watch! We don't know the answers, and that's what makes it exciting.

You've spoken about not writing off Federer off. But realistically, how many more Grand Slam wins do you see in him?
I think he could win another Wimbledon. For me, on the other surfaces given the physicality, it'll be very hard. But again, when you've won 17 Grand Slams, it's very foolish to write him off just yet.

The 'Big Four' – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murry – have dominated the game for a long time, while the rest seem quite far behind. Do you see the gap bridging over the next couple of years?
It will. Those players can't dominate forever. But those four have done such a good job of staying consistent and dominating Grand Slams. The other guys have got to bridge that gap and take the opportunities. Also, as the courts are a little bit slower and the balls are heavier, they have taken away the impact of one break of serve. When the conditions were much faster, if you lost your serve once, that could be the set over. But now there are many more opportunities to break serves. So the better players are able to win more matches.

Who is the one player who you feel can fill that gap?
I think (Grigor) Dimitrov (of Bulgaria). I like the way he plays and he's obviously got a lot of shots. He's now beginning to add more substance to his game, getting physically stronger and getting better mentally.

Having been in a position where you could not win a title despite reaching six Grand Slam semifinals, what does it take to go to the next level?
Everything. You obviously need to have the physical attributes – the skill, the game – and the mental capacity to be able to deal with pressure at different situations. I think you need a little bit of luck as well. When we look at this era, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 36 Grand Slams. So for me, this is the toughest era in the game for a long, long time.

Star coaches seem to be the flavour of the season. Any wishes to take the plunge?
(Laughs) Not for me, no. I mean it's very interesting to see Djokovic taking on Becker and Federer with Edberg. I think they've looked at the impact Lendl has had on Murray. Whether it is going to work on Djokovic and Federer, we don't know. I'm very interested to see what happens over the next two weeks.

How do you see the Djokovic-Becker combo working?
It's an interesting match, isn't it? I didn't expect it. But I think it's great that these top guys are still looking for areas that they can improve and get more inputs from somebody who's been at the top of the game. I don't think it's about them being taught new shots, this is more about the tactical and mental side of the game.

How relieved were you personally when Murray broke Britain's 77-year wait for a men's Wimbledon champion?
It was amazing. I've known Andy since he was very young. To watch him improve over the years, to see him deal with adversity, to overcome many difficult moments, losing four Grand Slam finals in a row and then still having the belief and the strength of character to come back and win the Olympic gold in 2012. Straight after that, winning the US Open was a huge turning point for him, his career and his life. But to come to Wimbledon – the biggest and best tournament in the world, being the home grown player – and to beat Djokovic, the world No. 1, it was an incredible achievement.

Finally, is the Ashes loss still hurting?
(Smiles) It's a tough one, yeah. I mean to have won the last one and going to Australia with a lot of confidence, losing 5-0 was very disappointing. But they have to learn from it and bounce back. And I'm sure they will.

See pictures of Tim Henman training youngsters in Mumbai

Henman files
Full name:
Timothy Henry Henman
 

Born: September 6, 1974; Oxford, England

Turned pro: 1992

Retired: September 23, 2007

Style: Right-handed (one-handed backhand)


Prize money:
$1,16,35,542

Career titles: 11

Highest ranking: No. 4 (July 2002)

 


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