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Monday, July 9, 2012
Don't do it for us, Andy, do it for you
Wimbledon began this year the day after England were dumped out of Euro 2012 after a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals to Italy.
The Sun ran a knowing headline that day — 'ANYONE FOR TENNIS?'
Two weeks have passed, and in that time we have witnessed Andy Murray go as close as any Brit has in 74 years of winning at the All England Club by becoming the first man from these shores to reach the final since Bunny Austin in 1938.
"I'm getting closer," joked Murray after harrying Roger Federer into playing his best tennis to defeat him — and he was right.
Murray was closer to reaching his personal landmark of a first Grand Slam crown, and to emulating the records of performers of eras past. Fred Perry did lift the title in 1936, but then again he didn't have to play the Swiss, who returns to world number one in his fourth decade, and for a record 286thweek.
As for British tennis? Never mind Wimbledon — it has now also been 76 years since we had a French Open champion, 77 years since a male British tennis player has won the French Open — a year longer since one won the Australian.
There are four Grand Slam tournaments a year of equal value throughout the year, lest we forget, and one of them happens to be on home soil.
For some on these shores, however, tennis is a sport that lasts two weeks a year, and despite a calendar bursting at the seams with tournaments and challenges, the players are measured almost solely by their achievements at SW19.
If you think that's an over-simplification, consider The Sun's headline this morning two weeks later, with the tournament over —'ANYONE FOR ENNIS?'
Yes, really. Heroic defeat and all that, but move along, Andy, it's time to burden the next British athlete with more inscrutable pressure.
Imagine having the 'hopes of a nation' on your shoulders, as we're routinely told in the press that Murray did. How would you even be able to lift your arm to serve?
Tramlines is British, and likes Andy Murray. Trammers would have liked to see the man win Wimbledon. But hell, Andy — please don't add me to the list of hopes you're supposedly carrying.
That's the formula that the papers serve up year on year, be it in football or, failing that, the next thing.
Because, and for no other reason than this fact, Murray is so damn good at tennis, he made it all the way to the final, and 'hopes of a nation' or not, many casual fans did get swept up in the excitement and anticipation of history being made.
In the end, Murray was the perfect gentleman in defeat. He lost, he joked, he praised his opponent and the crowd, he cried. As some sadly concluded, he may have won more hearts and minds in gallant defeat than he would have done by actually winning the thing.
"As it turns out, with that speech Andy Murray today has won more than any Wimbledon title is worth," mused Eamonn Holmes on Twitter, "He has won the hearts of the Country."
Once he's finished retching at that particular tweet, Tramlines is pleased if the public's view on Murray has softened. He is a talented and engaging character whose demeanour has often seemed far more abrasive than it really is. 'Guarded' is probably a fitting tag for Murray — and with the media jumping on his every word, who could blame him for that? The Scot — or should that be Brit? — has been tarred for years in a debate about nationality that would look puerile in an argument at a primary school. If, in one of these moments when Murray let his guard down, more people have come to empathise with him, so much the better.
But come, now. This is hardly news. In 2010, Murray lost another Grand Slam final to Federer, this time in Australia.
Having been swatted away to defeat, a tearful Murray gave an equally honest and sterling performance post-match.
"I can cry like you, Roger," he said, "I just wish I could play like you."
He almost can. Reaching four Grand Slam finals already makes Murray one of the best players of recent times. But in Federer, as well as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, he is playing in an era where three players are pressing their claims to be the greatest of all time.
We can hope Murray's time will come, and his career will not go unfulfilled without a Grand Slam title. And perhaps after yesterday's nearly moment, there'll be a few more who wish him the best in his pursuit of that success.
'DON'T CRY GIRLS, HE DID US PROUD', proclaims the Daily Mail, with Princess Kate and sister Pippa shown tearily watching on as Murray went down. It might sell a lot of papers to have the weepy sisters on the front page, but it somewhat confuses the identity of the tournament. Is Wimbledon about the tennis or is it a social event? Never mind, no time to think about that — the Olympics start any day now.
He will never slip entirely off the media radar, but Murray will make the transition from the front and back page to a few pages back, behind the Olympics, behind the new football season, and he'll keep going.
He's the best player Britain has had for 75 years, and he will begin the road to his next campaign - at the Olympics, ironically - with more people behind him than ever before.