Frank Malley considers whether the British No 1 can be a real title contender...
For the first time in a decade, Tim Henman will walk on to the red dust of Roland Garros next week with a swagger.
No more doubts that he can?t perform on a surface he used to hate. No more tentative qualifications that it is good preparation for Wimbledon which really matters.
Not after last year. For those who were away on an expedition deep in the Amazonian rain forests, or who have come to follow tennis only recently, let us recap. Henman had the adventure of his life in Paris last June.
For 12 days, he vied with the Eiffel Tower as the top attraction in town, reaching the semi-finals before losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, 7-5 to Argentina?s Guillermo Coria.
It was a run which displayed so much of what is best about Britain?s best tennis player since the 1930s heyday of Fred Perry.
There was character in turning around two matches, against Frenchmen Cyril Saulnier and Michael Llodra, from two sets down when lesser individuals would have gone out and run for the green, green grass of home.
There was determination in shrugging off a mystery virus which left him weakened after each encounter.
And there was an ability to entertain too, one which saw the insular-minded Parisiennes take his all-action, risktaking style to their hearts.
The French actually cheered a Brit in Paris that fortnight and that probably hadn?t happened since D-day.
Something also seemed to have clicked in the mind of Henman.
?I now have strength in my belief that I can play very effectively on clay,? said the man who had long regarded the surface merely as something which stuck to the bottom of his foot.
?If you can be in the semis of a Slam why can?t you go further? I played the best clay-court player in the world. Not many people would argue with that and I was pretty disappointed with the outcome.?
He swiftly followed Paris with a quarter-final at Wimbledon and another semi-final at the US Open in New York where he was beaten only by the brilliance of Roger Federer.
It makes six semi-finals in all in a career in which Henman appears destined never to go that extra yard which delivers the sport?s biggest prizes.
In truth, you would not wager the mortgage on him producing the heady form of 2004 at Roland Garros this year.
At 30, he has had another bruising 12 months in which his back and dodgy shoulder have never been far from the treatment table.
Wife Lucy has given birth to their second child, Olivia, and Henman has fielded flak from such as Pat Cash for putting his family too often in front of his tennis.
It was a criticism which came after his third round exit at the Australian Open but being labelled a fond father doesn?t trouble Henman, nor should it.
However, if Henman is ever to win a grand slam, you suspect it does carry a grain of truth.
Then there is the fact that clay-court tennis has never been as competitive.
The draw is full of accomplished Spaniards and Argentinians, such as last year?s winner Gaston Gaudio and semi-finalists David Nalbandian and Coria, capable of progressing deep into the tournament.
Coria, in particular, is stronger physically and his game remains rock-solid.
Federer, meanwhile, won in Hamburg and will be desperate to triumph on the one surface where his mastery is so far less than total.
Andre Agassi at 35 remains an accomplished performer on clay and has been in decent form of late, reaching the semi-finals in Rome. He could also be planning an emotional swansong to the stage where he won in 1999.
And then there are the 18-year-old young guns, Frenchman Richard Gasquet and Spain?s Rafael Nadal.
Gasquet announced his quality by taking the scalp of Federer in Monte Carlo while Nadal has a realistic chance of taking the crown on his first outing at Roland Garros. He is enjoying the kind of clay court form which Thomas Muster boasted prior to his triumph in 1995, having netted five titles in 2005.
No wonder fans raising expectations for Henman should exercise caution, although the British No 1 does not believe age is a barrier to ultimate success.
?I don?t agree that tennis is a young man?s game,? said Henman. ?Things change so quickly. Three or four things have improved in my game and my outlook this year alone. And last year was my best in Grand Slams with those semi-finals at Roland Garros and the US Open.?
An action replay would do nicely.