posted on Dec, 31 2004 @ 07:17 AM
Another new year, another last chance for Tim Henman to win Wimbledon. Once again Britain's number one will carry the burden of a nation's expectation
with him into the summer grass-court season. At the age of 30 it is easy to see why so many believe Henman's best chance of grabbing that elusive
first Grand Slam title has passed him by. But having recovered from so many supposed last chances in the past, Henman is wise not to let the doubters
And the chances are this year he could be about to give it his best shot yet. Henman was a revelation during the 2003 season, reaching the semi-finals
in both France and the United States and climbing to a career-high fourth in the world. But unfairly, his successful year will be seen by too many as
simply another time when he flopped on the big occasion: namely the all-important Wimbledon fortnight.
Henman's often too-rigid tactics have disappeared under the inspirational guidance of Paul Annacone and he has allowed his fiery side to surface more
frequently in wars of words with vocal critics in the British press. These changes can only be good for Henman in the season ahead, and had they been
implemented earlier may even have been good enough to take him all the way. But now he faces the seemingly insurmountable barrier of Roger Federer,
whose imperious dominance of the 2003 season led many to mark him out as a man who can go on to eclipse Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
Federer can surely only enhance that dominance during the forthcoming campaign with only Henman and Andy Roddick providing consistent opposition at
the top end. It is Roddick's misfortune that his exciting, brash brand of tennis should be made to look positively one-dimensional by the talents of
the only man above him in the rankings. For Greg Rusedski, the forthcoming season surely does represent a last chance to go one better than his 1997
US Open final appearance. The British number two has hit back admirably from his drug test nightmare and is gearing up solely for a last crack at a
tournament in which he has consistently failed to do himself justice.
All eyes will also be on Andrew Murray's first foray into the senior ranks following his US Open junior success. Murray represents by far the best bet
yet to replace Henman and Rusedski as Britain's leading player and a Davis Cup leader of the future. For now, Great Britain find themselves in the
bowels of the Euro-African zone with a trip to Israel promising little in the way of glamour.
The struggle for a British women's player of note will continue with a rash of articles around Wimbledon time rightly pointing out the ridiculous
dearth of young female talent. Oh for a talent pool as big as that in Russia, producer of a whole batch of players now set to dominate the women's
game for years to come. With Venus and Serena Williams struggling to reassert themselves after lay-offs and Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim
Clijsters battling injuries, the Russians could sweep the board in the year ahead.
Newly-crowned US Open champion and pick of the bunch Svetlana Kuznetsova should lead the way and reign as world number one before the season's end.
And the sight of Maria Sharapova delighting Centre Court again will no doubt serve to ease continued frustration at the lack of a leggy blonde
superstar to call our own.