Timothy Henry Henman was born on September 6, 1974, in Oxford. Both his grandfather and great grandfather were previous Wimbledon competitors, with grandfather Henry Billington reaching the third round in 1948, 1950 and 1951. His father was a good all-round sportsman, including a competent tennis player.
Henman began playing tennis at the age of just two-and-a-half with his parents and two older brothers on the family’s own court. One of his formative experiences as a young child was seeing Bjorn Borg play at Wimbledon – something that convinced him that he wanted to be a professional tennis player himself.
He went to Dragon School in Oxford from the age of seven, showing a keen interest in sport and playing for the first teams in hockey, football, rugby and cricket. In tennis he was the only pupil to win both junior and senior school championships in the same year.
From the age of 11 to 16 he attended Reeds School, Cobham. A scholarship enabled him to train with the David Lloyd Slater Squad and with other promising young tennis stars. The scheme, set up by financier Jim Slater and former Davis Cup player David Lloyd, was founded to promote tennis talent as well as providing a normal education. After a normal day at school, Henman would be driven to one of Lloyd’s indoor tennis centres for three hours of coaching.
Henman won numerous competitions on the junior circuit and left school after his GCSEs to focus on this and a future professional career.
Although Henman’s professional career just missed the heights that many of his fans hoped for, he is still the most successful British tennis player in at least the last 30 years. The last Brit to reach the Wimbledon Final was Roger Taylor, in 1973. (The last UK player to win the tournament was Fred Perry, in 1936.) Henman was once ranked 4th in the world and has won 11 titles. He has made six Grand Slam semis and a Masters Series title, earning a total of over £5 million prize money along the way.
His first professional title was in doubles tennis, with Nick Brown in the 1993 Great Britain Satellite. The next year he won his first singles title in the India Satellite. Unfortunately, 1994 was also a frustrating year for Henman as he broke his ankle and had to take five months away from his game. He still managed to make the Top 200.
Henman holds the dubious honour of becoming the first player ever to be disqualified from Wimbledon. In 1995, playing in a doubles match, he smashed a ball at one of the ball girls in a moment of anger, hitting her on the head. Despite this setback to his season he made the Top 100.
By the end of 1996 Henman had climbed to the Top 30. This was the year he came to widespread national and international attention, reaching the semi-finals of six ATP tournaments. He gained the “Most Improved Player” award at the ATP Tour Awards. He also made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, losing to America’s Todd Martin. By now he had replaced Greg Rusedski (who was knocked out in the second round) as Britain’s top player.
1997 began well, with Henman winning his first ATP tournament in Sidney that January. Elbow surgery in March, to remove several loose fragments of bone, meant that he was unable to play for seven weeks. He recovered quickly enough to make the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, losing to Michael Stich. Several other strong performances – he was an ATP tournament finalist at Doha and made three more semi-finals in Nottingham, Basel and Vienna – gained him the runner-up prize in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
1998 saw him move further up the ladder, this time reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon before being knocked out by Pete Sampras, the eventual winner. He won ATP titles in Tashkent and Basel and finished the year ranked 7th in the world. He also made the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1999 (again losing to Sampras) and the fourth round in 2000.
2001 was a career high point for Henman as far as Wimbledon was concerned. He beat Roger Federer in the quarter-final to face Goran Ivanisevic in the semis – a great achievement given that Federer himself had just beaten champion Pete Sampras. Henman won two out of the first three sets (7-5, 6-7(6), 0-6). Unfortunately, rain stopped play in the fourth set, giving Ivanisevic a chance to recover. Although at one point Henman was just two points from winning the match, he made a series of mistakes and Ivanisevic took the tie-break. Confidence lost, he never properly regained his stride and Henman’s opponent gained his first Wimbledon win as a result. 2002 saw another semi-final defeat, this time by Lleyton Hewitt, and in 2003 and 2004 he was knocked out in the quarter-finals. In 2004 he made the Roland Garros and US Open semi-finals. Seeded fourth for the 2004 Summer Olympics tennis event, he unexpectedly went out in the first round.
2005 was a disappointing year, with early losses in several tournaments, including the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. Gradually dropping down the rankings in this and the following year, it was time to turn his mind to retirement. He announced his intention in August 2007, saying that he would retire after the Davis Cup match against Croatia in September. “I don’t have any qualms about what I’ve put in, how committed I’ve been and how hard I’ve worked,” he said.
Henman has a wife and three daughters. He married TV producer Lucy Heald, his long-term girlfriend, on December 11, 1999. Their first daughter, Rose Elizabeth, was born in London on October 19, 2002. Olivia followed on December 15, 2004 and Grace on September 14, 2007.
He received an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List in 2003.