- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

Moments after advancing to the final, Tim Henman strolled past a small cluster of fans outside the William H. FitzGerald Tennis Stadium without hearing any shrieks or autograph requests.

After he left, a woman asked a friend, “Was that Tim?

Her friend looked puzzled and replied, “I’m not sure.”

The moment perfectly summed up a surprising and stirring day at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic yesterday as the two favorites and top seeds — Americans Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi — were knocked out in semifinal matches that needed a third set tiebreaker.

Henman opened the surprising day with a 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) victory over second-seeded Roddick, and Fernando Gonzalez capped off the upset with a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) win over top-seeded Agassi.

The only people more disappointed than Roddick and Agassi were the fans who had tickets to today’s final.

The anticipated match would have pitted young (Roddick) against old (Agassi). A match between the 33-year-old Agassi — the world’s top ranked player — and the 20-year-old Roddick — one of the hottest players after reaching the semifinals in five of his last six tournaments — was a sponsor’s dream. However, Henman and Gonzalez had other plans.

Roddick and Agassi heard questions all week about the new generation of Americans who have replaced the tennis old-timers with whom Agassi grew up. While all the attention was focused on the two Americans, Henman and Gonzalez quietly moved into the semifinals and overcame pro-American crowds to reach the final.

Gonzalez, a native of Santiago, Chile, admitted to having some nerves about playing his childhood idol for the first time and was overwhelmed with emotion when he won.

“It’s amazing,” Gonzalez said. “To think I was just happy to be on the same court with Andre. It’s a dream come true for me.”

Henman, Britain’s top player, performed in relative anonymity here — a far cry from the scrutiny he received at Wimbledon, where his every move was front page news. In England there is rabid interest in Henman, who remains his countrymen’s greatest hope of a Brit winning a Wimbledon men’s title for the first time since 1936.

“It’s always been a nice part about coming to the States,” said Henman, playing in his first tournament since losing in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. “I’m certainly able to go about my business with little attention. There’s been times where I’ve concentrated too much on winning, and that puts extra pressure on yourself.”

Yesterday that pressure was on Roddick and Agassi, who both lost despite winning the first set.

Five-time Legg Mason champion Agassi dropped the second set 6-4 and fell behind 5-2 in the third. The crowd then roared encouragement, and Agassi used the support to help him win the next three games. He won the ninth game after Gonzalez double-faulted on match point.

It was a similar comeback story in the tiebreaker. Agassi trailed 3-0 but battled back to even it at 5-5. However, Gonzalez used his backhand for winners on the final two points to seal the upset.

“With him, the match can turn around so quickly,” Agassi said. “He makes a few [shots] at the wrong time, and all of a sudden you’re in trouble.”

For Henman, it was a day in which he said he felt little pressure, despite losing the first set 6-1 in 25 minutes. Surprisingly, he cruised through the third set tiebreaker 7-1.

Henman went about his business and didn’t waste his opportunities against the visibly worn-down Roddick. The American won the RCA Championships in Indianapolis last Sunday and reached the semifinals in both singles and doubles this week.

“He’s played a lot of tennis, hasn’t he?” Henman said. “I was looking for a chink in the armor.”

Henman found it early in the second set when he took a 3-1 lead against the frustrated Roddick. The 20-year-old displayed his discontent when he took a ball out of his pocket and smashed it high and deep into the upper deck of the stadium.

Henman went on to win three of the next four games to take the set 6-3. Roddick picked up his play in the third set, but Henman matched him serve for serve.

“I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose at that stage,” Henman said of the tiebreaker.

Roddick opened it with an ace but then lost seven straight points and could only shrug his shoulders as he walked off the court.

“He just played flawless tennis,” Roddick said. “He’s been top 10 for how many years? It’s just a matter of time before he starts playing good tennis again.”

The time has come.

Henman, ranked 38th on the ATP Tour, has worked his way back to full health after being slowed by surgery on his right shoulder Nov.14. He has reached his first final of the year.

“You never know what a match like [ours] takes out of Gonzalez,” Agassi said. “Or what a match like Tim had takes out of Tim.”

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