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Henman soaks up support

By Associated Press
Published June 28, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England - The sounds of People's Sunday rang through Centre Court. Rhythmic clapping and stomping. Chants of "Hen-man! Hen-man!" Screams of "Come on, Tim!" And that was two hours before Tim Henman set foot on the grass.

Wearing T-shirts and shorts, adorned with red wigs and Union Jack bowler hats, the hoi polloi flocked to Wimbledon to snap up first-come, first-served tickets, relishing just the third time in 127 years matches were played on the middle Sunday. Buoyed by the support, Henman moved on in his career-long quest to give Britain its first male champion at the All England Club since 1936, reaching the round of 16 by beating No. 32 Hicham Arazi 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

"When you walk out on the court, just the buzz and the excitement is incredible," the fifth-seeded Henman said. "I needed it at times."

When the one gate used Sunday opened at 9 a.m., most near the front of the 10,000-person queue bought seats in the main stadium generally taken by the blue blazer set.

The turnout of 22,155 left almost 6,000 tickets unsold. That, with extensive security checks at the entrance, made for an eerie quiet around the grounds when action began at 11 a.m.

Eager to play after Saturday's rainout, the second of the tournament, defending champ Roger Federer and Thomas Johansson stepped out for the Centre Court opener five minutes early. The stadium was two-thirds full at the beginning of Federer's 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win, and packed for Henman's match, but it was desolate elsewhere.

Andy Roddick played to an intimate gathering, but maintained his intensity in a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-1) win over No. 26 Taylor Dent.

Dent took a 6-3 lead in the second set tiebreaker when Roddick hit a forehand return wide. Roddick then angrily slammed his racket to the grass, and the outburst apparently helped. He won the next five points and closed out the set with a backhand winner. When Roddick closed out the match with a service winner, raising his arms to cheers, Court 1 still was half empty.

"The people that were there really wanted to be there. It was loud," Roddick said. "The whole week's been wacky so why not (Sunday), too?"

It was a bit of a shame so few witnessed Federer's next foe, 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic, use his serve - the one that confounded Lleyton Hewitt last year - to accumulate 39 aces in beating No. 18 Feliciano Lopez. Or see No. 8 Rainer Schuettler upset 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 by American Vince Spadea, whose previous Wimbledon highlight was beating Greg Rusedski in 2000 to end a 21-match losing streak.

"It was funny," Spadea said, "because I was thinking: "Here it is the third round of Wimbledon, and I could just as easily be playing a practice match on a random grass court.' "

Also into the fourth round: two-time defending champ Serena Williams, who smacked 11 aces and beat Magui Serna 6-4, 6-0.

[Last modified June 28, 2004, 01:00:37]

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