The challenging life of the villain on Wimbledon’s Centre Court

Live Tennis Staff in Wimbledon 29 Jun 2022
Andre Sa falls to the ground during his match against Tim Henman at the Wimbledon in 2002. (REUTERS/Ian Hodgson)

The roar of Wimbledon‘s Centre Court crowd is a spectacle in itself, but what is it like when you’re up against the fans’ favourite in front of 15,000 spectators?

That was the challenge that Andre Sa faced back in 2002 when he took on British No.1 Tim Henman in the quarter-finals.

Sa was ranked 90th in the world. It must have been both daunting and challenging to play the role of the villain on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

“I played a local player, Tim Henman,” recounted Sa in an interview with Betway. “He was the crowd favourite and that made it really, really tough.”

Henman carried the pressures of trying to quench the crowd’s thirst for a British Wimbledon champion. At that time, a British player had not won the men’s singles title in the open era. The last Brit to win a singles title at all at SW19 was Virginia Wade 25 years before in 1977.

To add to the occasion, Sa, born in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte, would face Henman just two weeks after Brazil had eliminated England from the 2002 World Cup at the same stage. Something that had not gone unnoticed by the then 25-year-old.

“I remember 2002 was also the World Cup year. Brazil played England in the quarter-finals and the crowd was going crazy,” Sa continued. “I had the full Centre Court, 15,000 people, cheering against me.”

With fans expecting a routine Henman win, the stakes were high for the Brit.

Henman would take the first set 6-3, only for Sa to bounce back in the second courtesy of a tiebreak.

That, Sa recalls, only intensified the atmosphere.

“When I won the second set that’s when things got tricky. I think they [the fans] started worrying a little bit. And then in the third set I started off with the early break and the crowd was really getting nervous because it had been a long time since a British player won Wimbledon.”

Henman would bounce back from that second set wobble, however, winning the next two to progress to the final four. He would face World No.1 Lleyton Hewitt, falling to a straight-set loss. The Australian went on to win the title.

“The way he [Henman] played, serving and volleying all the time, playing really aggressive… he didn’t give you much time,” said Sa.

“At the end of the day, I think he played better than me.”

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