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Henman gives Brits hope; Sampras watches; Sharapova debuts 'Swan' dress

| Wednesday, June 27, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

WIMBLEDON, England — By the sights and sounds alone Tuesday, one would have thought Tim Henman ended Britain's 71-year wait for a Wimbledon men's champion.

His victory over former No. 1 Carlos Moya was indeed theatrical, what with a 13-11 fifth set, six wasted match points, an overnight suspension because of darkness and, yes, wild cheering and standing ovations from Henman's countrymen at Centre Court.

It also, however, was a first-round match. Against a guy playing on grass for the first time since 2004.

Still, Henman and his fans will take what they can get, and there was certainly a celebratory mood after he pulled out the 6-3, 1-6, 5-7, 6-2, 13-11 victory to reach the second round. The match was halted at 5-5 in the fifth set Monday night.

"The atmosphere is second to none. The support I've had, as I've always had, has been incredible. I've used it to my advantage," said Henman, a four-time semifinalist at the All England Club. "Today was another good example of that."

Great shots from Henman were greeted by roars from the stands. Between points, there were dozens of cries of "Come on, Tim!" or "You can do it, Timothy!" or "Finish him, Tim! Finish him!" One brave soul repeatedly called out, "Vamos, Carlos!"

There was plenty of great play, including fantastic exchanges with both men up at the net, and 1998 French Open champion Moya's somewhat surprising serve-and-volley forays forward.

The ending was a bit anticlimactic: Moya double-faulted on Henman's seventh match point.

Henman didn't mind.

"At that stage," he said, "you're very open to any gifts."

The last British man to win the championship at Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936, and in recent times it's been Henman who, for two weeks each year, has shouldered the burden of carrying a nation's hopes.

"I played one of the few real specialists that is still left on grass. So maybe he's not the Tim Henman he used to be, but still he's a great player," the 25th-seeded Moya said. "He knows how to play here."

Henman is 32, though, and ranked 74th, and lost in Wimbledon's second round each of the past two years — prompting speculation around these parts about retirement. Andy Murray, a 20-year-old currently in the Top 10, had seemingly taken on the role of local favorite, but he withdrew on the eve of the tournament with a wrist injury.

That left seven British men in the field — and six lost in the first round.

So once again it's Henman, all alone, with millions watching his every move.

"It's a difficult one, the expectation, because everyone is saying I should retire. But then they ask me how I should do, and they expect me to get to the second week," Henman said, then broke into a wide smile.

"But it's like, if you expect me to get to the second week, why do you want me to retire• I'm trying to work that out."


Pistol Pete: Pete Sampras is in California, getting ready for next month's Hall of Fame induction by working on his speech. He's also keeping an eye on Wimbledon, where he won seven of his record 14 Grand Slam titles.

Like most, he figures Roger Federer will win a fifth consecutive championship at the All England Club.

"On grass, it makes him that much better," Sampras said. "On grass, he does what (Rafael) Nadal does on clay."

Sampras, who won Wimbledon from 1993-95 and 1997-00, called Federer and Nadal "two legends in the making." Federer has 10 major titles — four each at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, three at the Australian Open — and Nadal has three — all at the French Open.

"Federer and Nadal are head and shoulders above," he said. "I don't see them slowing down anytime soon."

And on the women's side?

"I see lots of names that end in 'ova,'" he said, laughing. "The Williams sisters are doing pretty well, but other players have caught up to them."


No ugly duckling: Fabric frills fluttered about on Court 1 as Maria Sharapova wore her "Swan Lake"-inspired dress during her first-round victory at Wimbledon.

"Even on a hanger, it doesn't look as swan-ish as it does on me," the 2004 champion said proudly after beating Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan 6-1, 7-5 Tuesday.

The No. 2-seeded Sharapova found it tough to find an original way to deal with the All England Club's all-white dress code.

"There's only so much you can do with white, and it's always going to be traditional," she said. "You just think of creative things and details you can add to a dress."

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