‘I was 20 and ranked 180. He is the world No1’
Tim Henman can see the similarities to his Wimbledon ejection in 1995, but cannot excuse Djokovic’s actions
Talk about smart recruitment. Even before Sunday night’s drama, Amazon Prime’s use of Tim Henman as a studio pundit had been an important plank in its coverage. Then, when Novak Djokovic made the costliest unforced error of his career, Henman was perfectly placed to comment.
At the top level of the game, this sort of default had happened only three times over the past 30 years. Denis Shapovalov was ejected from a Davis Cup match in 2017, David
Nalbandian from Queen’s Club in 2012, and Henman himself from Wimbledon in 1995, the year he accidentally struck a ball girl in the head during a doubles match.
“There were distinct similarities between my case and Novak’s,” Henman told
“We both hit the ball away in frustration and deserved a default. Where they’re very different is that I was 20 years old, had just won my first singles match at Wimbledon a couple of days before, and was ranked about 180. Whereas Djokovic is the world No1.
“I did the press conference straight after. The first question was, ‘How do you feel about being the first person in 120 years to be disqualified at Wimbledon?’ It was hard, being a British player, and especially when you add in my family history [Henman’s maternal grandparents, Henry and Susan Billington, both played Wimbledon in the 1950s, while Ellen Stanwell-Brown, his great-grandmother, is reputed to have been the first woman to serve overarm].
“I was sharing a flat with [British contemporary] Andrew Richardson, later the best man at my wedding. The next morning he bought all the newspapers, enjoying a good laugh at my expense. I remember on the back page of the headline was, ‘He hit it so hard he could have killed her’. That was a massively inaccurate and unhelpful quote from [fiery American player] Jeff Tarango.
“I remember reading the news that day and thinking, ‘This is not doing me any favours. I am never going to read them again’. I think that helped me playing at Wimbledon from then on. I was always single-minded, never thinking about what was being said or written about me. I also thought, ‘I had better have some decent results or I am going to be remembered as the guy who got disqualified at Wimbledon’.
“I was always passionate about what I was doing, and loved the game. But sometimes people just need a little added incentive. I knew I had to knuckle down – and if you look at my results the rest of the year, I finished in the top 100.”
Crisis management: Tim Henman presents flowers to the ball girl he accidentally hit