When you think of the great tennis rivalries, the one between Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski isn’t the first to come to mind. But for me, that’s what makes it interesting. I know both players quite well, and I know they were both desperate to win a Grand Slam and be Britain’s No1. Not that they ever would have spoken about it. Henman has always been quiet, so they’d never exchange harsh words.
The fact that the rivalry was never played out in public is what gave it such a compelling intensity. There were subplots in their relationship, too. Rusedski had come over from Canada and taken some of the limelight from Henman, who — being a gentleman — didn’t say a word about it. Rusedski won BBC Sports Personality Of The Year in 1997; Henman came second. But then public opinion slowly came to value Henman as a more consistently talented player. As a fellow sportsman, I have always wondered what was really going on in their heads, as you could see the rivalry bubbling under the surface.
They were also startlingly different characters — Rusedski had celebrity girlfriends and did photoshoots for Hello!, while Henman was unassuming and quietly committed — and this difference came out on the court. I remember when they played each other in the third round of the Australian Open in 2002. Henman won in four sets and played some great, graceful tennis, whereas Rusedski was all power. He served half a dozen aces, dived for every ball and smashed volleys, while Henman stayed calm and cool. Rusedski was coming to the end of his career but Henman was firing up for one final push. It highlighted the differences between them and made for an enthralling battle.
By contrast, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s rivalry can be intense, yet they seem to like and respect each other. I guess it’s the mystery between Henman and Rusedski that has always intrigued me. These two very different guys were striving and competing for the same thing at the same time, and the unspoken tension was fascinating.
The Matt Dawson Rugby Academy in sponsored_longform with The Co-operative; co-operative.coop/activatesport