Once upon a time, Roger Federer just couldn’t beat Tim Henman to save his life. That’s a surreal thought.
In truth, their careers were overlapping to a large degree. Federer was on his way up while Henman was peaking.
Although, that said, that probably does Henman a bit of a disservice. The former British number one kept beating Federer for a spell even when he was sitting on top of the world rankings.
Their first meeting was when Henman, ranked sixth in the world then, faced a fresh-faced wildcarded Roger Federer on the carpet of Basel in 1999.
Between that match and their meeting in the quarterfinals of Rotterdam in 2004, when Federer was world number one and Henman just outside the top ten, the Swiss maestro had managed just one win in their seven meetings.
That run even included a match at Wimbledon, which Henman won in four sets.
Of course, it was a very different story by the end of their final clash, which was in Tokyo 2006.
Federer’s 6-3, 6-3 win against the fading and 55th-ranked Henman was his win title in Japan and, perhaps more agonisingly for Henman, his sixth straight win over the Brit to edge ahead at the death in their career head-to-head. Winning the match would have put Henman in an incredibly elite group.
Players with a positive career head-to-head v Federer
Novak Djokovic 27-23
Rafael Nadal 24-16
Alexander Zverev 4-3
Dominic Thiem 5-2
Yevgeny Kafelnikov 4-2
Pat Rafter 3-0
Alex Corretja 3-2
Thomas Enqvist 3-1
Gustavo Kuerten 2-1
Wayne Ferreira 2-1
Dominik Hrbaty 2-1
It wasn’t meant to be, of course. Of those players above, five are former world number ones and two others probably will be in the future.
That meeting in Tokyo was their third final against each other, with them both previously winning one a piece. Henman beat Federer in the Basel final in 2001, with Federer winning the Indian Wells final in 2004.
Ultimately, Henman got a lot closer that most ever will or ever have to besting Federer, particularly over 13 career matches.
“I am not the first guy to lose in a final to Roger Federer and I won’t be the last,” Henman said afterward the Tokyo final.
“I would have loved to have won today but he was simply too good.”
Couldn’t have called it any better, Tim.
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