It's always a strange thing when a sportsman retires. Reading the papers you'd be forgiven for thinking that the athlete in question had died! Career retrospectives have a definite tendency to resemble obituaries. It's a hazard born of the necessity to write in the past tense. In some respects there is a death to be mourned; the death of a career. But even when written in the most celebratory tones most pieces still wouldn't seem out of place at a memorial service!
It is with this in mind that I turn to Tim Henman. I apologise in advance if at any point it begins to sound as though the poor chap has shuffled off this mortal coil!
Tim Henman is a legend. Andy Murray uttered that very phrase yesterday and it would be a harsh and ignorant person who said otherwise. I have always maintained that anyone who knows anything about tennis and British tennis in particular, cannot help but acknowledge the great contribution that Henman has made to the sport over the last 12 years or so. The announcement of his intention to retire at the end of September after Britain's Davis Cup tie against Croatia was not unexpected and the general consensus has been that it is the right time for the Oxfordshire man to hang up his professional racket.
Henman will always be one of my sporting heroes. The general public often moan about the fact that he never won a Grand Slam title or that he is 'boring' but in my eyes he has been one of the most competitive and talented British sportsmen in recent years. Add to that the way in which he has shouldered so much expectation and he deserves the respect of all. Ultimately Joe Public's opinion won't hold much weight for Henman. Who needs their approval when he has the respect of the top players in the world? Not just Murray, but Federer and Sampras - two greats of the modern era - have often spoken of their admiration and respect for Henman and these guys don't hand out plaudits like that for nothing.
My first Henman memory comes from 1996 when he made it to the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time. I was 11 years old and from that moment I was a fan. Being a Henmaniac has had its downsides. The number of matches that I have watched from behind the sofa is I'm sure far higher than for fans of other players but such is the passion that his matches produce. No-one as boring as the tabloids make him out to be could inspire such fervour and excitement amongst British tennis fans. Brad Gilbert, the coach of Andy Murray and previously to Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, said yesterday that he felt that Henman had often been misunderstood. I'm not sure that misunderstood is the right word but he has definitely been mistakenly labelled. Henman has a media face. It's the slightly boring one that is put on to enable him to deal with the press and many of the ridiculous questions he has to face. When we're fortunate enough to see 'behind-the-scenes' clips and interviews he comes across clearly as a normal, fairly easy-going guy with a particularly dry sense of humour. I'm convinced that as he makes the transition from player to commentator and pundit, that side of him will become increasingly noticeable.
Henman's relationship with the tennis world is obviously not completely over. Not only will the BBC no doubt be knocking on his door for punditry duties but surely the role of Davis Cup captain will beckon him in a few years time. Until then he deserves a well-earned rest. I don't see him getting anywhere in his last Grand Slam - the US Open. He has an particularly tough draw against Dmitry Tursunov in the opening round. Henman's focus will surely be on securing a Davis Cup win in September. Defeat to Croatia would be a sad way for such a sparkling career to end. So for one last time, let me hear you shout: "C'mon Tim!"