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TENNIS: WIMBLEDON 2000 - PLAY IT AGAIN HEN; After Casablanca, it's the Wizard of Oz for Tim.

OF all the courts in all the world, Hicham Arazi had to walk into thisone. And the man from Casablanca was never going to play it again at Wimbledon 2000.

This was the perfect stage for Tim Henman. And he graced it with a maturity that suggests he could yet join the roll-call of champions who graced the Centre Court yesterday.

Sterner tests of his techniqueand temperament await.

But Henman was confident, assured and decisive in a straight sets victory over an opponent who was trickier than a Moroccan snake-charmer.

The 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 verdict was a slide-rule reflection of the Englishman's dominance as he marched into the last 16.

When he strode on to the game's biggest stage just after six o'clock, the sporting nation was awash with nostalgia and excitement.

Wimbledon had been treated to a parade of all-time greats and England's cricketers were on the verge of a famous victory just ten miles down the road.

Legends of tennis looked down from the Royal Box. In previous incarnations, Henman might have crumbled under such expectations.

But that was never an option last night. He was never going to let down a home crowd that is becoming more passionate in their support as the years go by.

Henman said: "I know I've said it before but the fans are just amazing. It makes me more focussed on what I have to do.

"There is just so much support. Just when I walk on the courtand put my bags down, they start chanting my name.

It gives you a big lift and that is before the match has even started." Henman broke to love in the eighth game of the first set and never even took a sly glance backwards.

Only 24 slots separated these pair on the ranking list.

But there was a far greater gulf in form - the Brit had overpowered Arazi in five of their previous six meetings.

And the third round represented the dizziest of Wimbledon heights scaled by the North African. Henman, on theother hand, is developing an impressive All England pedigree - two quarter-final and two semi-final appearances in the last four years.

But as he reflected on this win last night, his mind surely wandered forward a week. He has massive barriers in his way - one in the shape of Andre Agassi.

But a final meeting with his great friend - and injured friend - Pete Sampras is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

A single break was enough in the first set, and likewise in the second.

But the most impressive aspectof Henman's performance was the calm and collected way he dealt with the rare threatening moments from Arazi.

And he closed matters with another single break and his nerviest service game. Henman was clearly satisfied even though he didn't get too carried away, saying: "I feel like I had a good clear game-plan in my mind and went out there and executed it. I couldn't find too many faults in that.

"I was really pleased with the way I played but I still feel like I am working my way into thetournament and my game has got better with each match.

"I'm now looking forward to next week. It's a bit like another tournament starting.

"I know it's a boring cliche but you really do have to take each match as it comes. I am just going to do my very best to keep going."

It was a thoroughly professional performance from Henman and, despite his reservations, the Brit can rarely have gone into the second week of Wimbledon with his spirits so high.

The spirits of his next opponent will be high - but his physical energy low.

Big-serving Aussie Mark Philippoussis came through a five-hour epic by winning the fifth set 20-18 against Dutchman Sjeng Schalken.

The pair playedout a staggering 83 games in the longest modern-time Wimbledon match played on a single day. The contest on Court Two contained an incredible 77 aces.

It went on longer than an England Test match and Henman goes into tomorrow's clash with Philippoussis having enjoyed a gentle jog compared to his rival's marathon.

Henman said: "I hope he is shattered. I've been pulling his leg in the locker room.

"He was 1-0 down in the fifth set when I went out to play my game and when I had finished that fifth set was still going on! "I said: 'What took you so long? I played my match in one set of yours'. But he is a strong guy and a big, big server and I know I am going to have a very tough game."

Henman's victory completed a great summer day for English sport.

At Wimbledon, it started with a pageant of 64 champions and All England legends. Henman said: "That inspired me.

Bjorn Borg was my hero and to see him walk on to Centre Court was special. When they hold the next parade of champions in 20 or 30 years' time, I want to be in it."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Court, Andy Dunn On Centre
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jul 2, 2000
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