The autumnal scene here at Wimbledon, where brown leaves scatter in the wind and discarded conkers disfigure the ground, is a metaphor for the point at which Tim Henman now stands.

On Sunday evening, a career which began in 1994 and reached a peak in 2001 will reach winter. It is then that the status of Henman will change from professional tennis player to former professional tennis player.

It is not just sporting history that is drawing to a close, but British social history, too; for Henman has been a man of his era; a man who could succeed and fail (sometimes at the same time) in the manner expected of an upper-middle-class Brit; a man who was more Middle England than the people who cheered him.

His presence at the Davis Cup tie here between Great Britain and Croatia this weekend will ensure that there will be no dead rubbers. Even if the tie is won and lost by the time of the final rubber on Sunday, you can be sure that Henman will turn the occasion into his personal testimonial match.

That is when the memories will come flooding back: Henman-Kafelnikov at Wimbledon in 1996; Henman-Sampras at Wimbledon in 1999; Henman-Federer at Wimbledon in 2001; Henman-Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in the same year; Henman-Coria at Roland Garros in 2004; and the one Masters triumph, in Paris in 2003.

Then there was the Wimbledon euphoria that made Henman's the most overhyped career in British tennis history.

Whatever the result, the Davis Cup will provide the rousing conclusion that his career deserves, but the sense of anticlimax is drawing closer.

For all the enthusiasm of a Davis Cup tie, with its football-match atmosphere, Henman will be in a state of lament for the grand slam title he never won but wanted desperately.

Henman will take on Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 12, today before Andy Murray plays Marin Cilic. Murray will join his brother, Jamie, to face Ljubicic and Lovro Zovko in the doubles tomorrow. On Sunday, Murray will play Ljubicic while Henman faces Cilic.

Ljubicic, aged 28, has won eight singles titles including the Qatar Open nine months ago, where he beat Murray in straight sets. Cilic, aged 18, knocked Henman out at Queens Club in the first round in June.

"It would be great to go out on Sunday at 2-2 against the man who beat me at Queen's this year," Henman said. "I wouldn't need any extra motivation.

"I was very ordinary at Queen's this year but I'm confident I can come back with a different result. I didn't take my chances that day. I could and probably should have won all three sets, yet still lost the match and I'm determined the same won't happen again."

Now outside the world's top 100, Henman is not the player of old. He is not even the player of last year. At his peak, he was the world No 4 in 2001 and he became a good example of what a bit of talent can do with a lot of hard work.

The hardest part of this weekend might be his attempts to hold back the tears. He says he has no idea how he will react when his career has finally ended but that, whatever the emotions, it will not affect his desire to send Great Britain back into the World Group.

"Perhaps it will all hit home an hour or so after the match," Henman said. "Maybe the next day, or even next week. You can't prepare for something like this because you don't know how you are going to feel, but I am fully aware of the importance of this match and know I will absolutely give my all out on court."

That is what he has always done. Henman has been regarded as a great serve-volley player but this exaggerates his abilities. His serve, particularly the second, was never powerful enough and his first volley rarely deep enough to kill off the point.

He was great because he maximised his potential and learnt how to deal with the weaknesses of his opponents.

As a serve-volley player, he was not in the league of McEnroe, Edberg, Curran; not even superior to Rafter, Phillippousis or Ivanisevic. But Henman was consistent and reliable.

It would be apt to say that now it is Andy Murray who can take the baton and see how close a British player can come to winning a grand slam. In truth, Murray has been that man for two years. Their careers have overlapped but they were never great at the same time. Murray's rise coincided with Henman's fall.

But when it all ends and cheers ring in Henman's ears, Murray will be among those who will stand to applaud this very British of sportsmen.