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The unbelievable truth

I’m glad I wasn’t on Centre Court on Sunday afternoon. Of course it would have been fun to watch Bjorn “Berdych in four” Borg eat his words, as the rampaging Rafael Nadal claimed his second Wimbledon title in three straight sets. It wasn’t a great match — there were way too many unforced errors and not enough screaming Nadal forehands. But watching on TV, it was sometimes hard to figure out whether the BBC thought this was a major tennis match, or just another mass photo opportunity for the celebrity hounds of the tabloid press.

So what can an event that’s already played host to the Queen and David Beckham do for an encore? The answer, it seems, is to pack the rafters of the 15,000-seater Centre Court with as many famous people as you can find. It wasn’t just the old stagers like Sir Cliff Richard, minor royals like Lord Freddie Windsor, or the usual sprinkling of sports stars, including Formula One’s Jenson Button, who caught the attention of the roving cameras. Even actor Colin Firth, seated somewhere up near row Z, suffered the indignity of having a lens shoved up his nose for the entertainment of the watching masses on TV.

In fact, the commentators were so busy trying to keep up with the unfolding celebrity action in the stands, that they barely had time to describe the main event. This, in case you missed it, involved Tomas Berdych trying to pit those huge flat groundstrokes and booming serve against Nadal’s enviable repertoire of spins, slices and dogged retrieving. He failed. The best (off-court) moment was undoubtedly the sight of “Tiger” Tim Henman’s dad yawning in his seat. “Nothing to do with our commentary, I hope”, chirped the terminally bland Andrew Castle in his one insightful moment of the afternoon.

So Wimbledon’s big prizes were carried off by the all-conquering Serena Williams and Iberian tennis god, Rafa Nadal — a man with the heart of a lion and the knees of a geriatric. They got the best trophies and the biggest cheques, but I think it’s only fair to acknowledge some other notable contributions to the fortnight:


Most overexposed logo
Unlike the other Slams, Wimbledon doesn’t allow the atmosphere of tennis’s most revered event to be sullied by a lot of crass commercialisation. There are strict rules about how much space on the players’ all-white attire can be given over to advertising. But I suspect this is all designed to ensure that nothing competes with the oversize logos of the tournament’s official outfitter, Ralph Lauren. The rather discreet logo that was once synonymous with the overpriced polo shirts worn by American bankers has been well and truly supersized. If the BBC doesn’t show “commercials”, then why were we subjected to so many lingering close-ups of that logo — prominently displayed on the chests and wristbands of all the Wimbledon ball girls and ball boys?

Whingeing millionaires
John McEnroe’s tirade during the Murray vs Nadal semi-final about tennis players being “badly paid” was bizarre and ill-judged. Earth to McEnroe: we non-tennis playing mortals are still feeling the effects of a very severe recession. Total prize money at Wimbledon was up 9.4% on 2009. I think he was trying to make a point that other sports pay their stars more, but he’d be better off keeping his trap shut on the issue of remuneration.

Most outraged commentator
Is it professional tennis or just a really dull episode of ER? Medical time-outs are in danger of turning the game into a total farce. So it was no great surprise to see Robin Soderling march up to the umpire’s chair and demand treatment for a blistered toe during the third set of his quarter-final with Nadal. The trainer had to be summoned and a delay of almost ten minutes ensued. Commentator John Lloyd vented his displeasure by repeating “this is absolutely ridiculous” throughout the duration of this unscheduled break.

Fallen idol
Oops, Roger Federer has tumbled to number 3 in the rankings, following his defeat by Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals. More significantly, it seems to be the end of the long-running affair between the Swiss and those journalists who condemned his apparently ungracious reaction to being dumped out of the tournament. Well, it’s all about as surprising as the news that Andy Murray doesn’t care about the England football team, or the crushing realisation that Anna Kournikova is obsessed with her looks. Roger’s always been more hubristic than humble, but I wouldn’t bet against him turning the tables on his critics.

Most overused word
Unbelievable. No, really, it is unbelievable how many times I’ve heard that word over the last two weeks. Improbable victories, unexpected defeats, extravagant shot-making — they can all be summed up in just one, not so well-chosen word.


Fatal distraction

Will Andy Murray ever win Wimbledon? Does Tracy Austin — once affectionately dubbed “the mini Austin” by the British press — have a bit of a crush on fellow commentator John McEnroe? Does anyone ever drink the Robinsons Barley Water so prominently displayed on Centre Court? These, and many other questions, will not be answered any time soon, but that won’t stop the indefatigable Sue Barker and her BBC colleagues from conducting yet another lengthy post mortem on our 74-year wait for a successor to Fred Perry.

It was all looking so promising. With England out of the World Cup and Roger Federer unceremoniously dumped out of Wimbledon, the stage was set for Murray to restore national pride by claiming his first Grand Slam title. The Swiss maestro was a spent force, Andy Roddick had been carved up by the Man from Chinese Taipei, and Nadal was carelessly dropping sets all over the place. Surely a Murray victory was the only logical conclusion.

Or was it? When it comes to tennis punditry, the need to follow the official line — “plucky Brit will triumph” — is hard to escape. Over the years I have watched with amusement as outspoken big hitters like Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova and (yes) John McEnroe have been lured into BBC studios and commentary boxes and made to trot out the same unconvincing lines. Nearly a decade ago I was stunned to see Martina backtracking about Henman’s chances, after she’d written a newspaper column in which she (correctly) concluded that the British Number 1 didn’t have any big weapons.

But the night before the Murray vs Nadal semi-final, rookie Lindsay Davenport pluckily broke with protocol on the BBC and announced that her picks were Tomas Berdych and Nadal. A smirking Tracy Austin declared that she “liked Murray”. Had she actually watched Rafa make mincemeat of Robin Soderling in their quarter-final clash? I suspect that having to share space in the “Pimm’s and Pundits Corner” with laconic Lindsay instead of the mercurial John McEnroe had thrown the normally shrewd Ms Austin off her game.

In truth, there have been a lot of distractions at this year’s Wimbledon. There was the Isner vs Mahut yawnfest, which fooled the uninitiated into thinking that a tennis match lasting 11 hours is good news for the sport. More recently, blundering commentator David Mercer made some ill-received comments about Laura Robson’s “puppy fat”. Presumably he’d be happier if she looked more like Daniela Hantuchova, a woman once described as having as much body fat as a paper clip.

But even the return of tennis’s so-called Spice Girls, Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis, couldn’t compete with the presence on Friday of Mr Posh Spice himself, soccer legend David Beckham. Fresh from presiding over England’s demise in the World Cup, Becks and son Brooklyn jetted over from Nice to offer their support to the Murray camp on Centre Court.

As cameras pointed again and again at the tabloid-friendly features of the former England captain, Rafael Nadal got on with the business of dashing Murray’s hopes of Wimbledon glory. The Spaniard, it seems, is not one to be distracted. He even turned down a chance to meet the Queen during her visit last week, ostensibly because he wanted to prepare for his second-round match.

Murray played very well — at times he was inspired. Yet even as the commentators announced that he’d won more points than Rafa, or that he was serving better than expected, he just kept falling further behind. It turns out that all the expert analysis, the hunches, and the discussion of Nadal’s weaknesses was just a load of hot air. Andy Murray lost 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 to a man who outran him and outplayed him on the points that really mattered.

The BBC was, of course, determined to wring every last drop out of the drama, the pathos and the sheer unfairness of it all. Back in the studio, mourner-in-chief Sue Barker was wearing that doleful expression she used to reserve for that black day every year when Henman exited the tournament and “Timbledon” once again reverted to being just Wimbledon. The following morning it was still going on, as Murray’s former coach, Mark Petchey, and Bjorn Borg dutifully affirmed that the Scot can improve and that he’s still got plenty more years to win that elusive Slam.

Perhaps he will do it next year. In the mean time I don’t need any of the BBC’s galaxy of former champions to tell me that Nadal is a very strong favourite to beat Berdych and secure his second Wimbledon title. Once that’s over, we can get right down to the wishing and hoping business again. It’s only 50 weeks until Wimbledon 2011 begins.


They think it’s all ova

The vuvuzelas may have sounded the Last Post on England’s dismal World Cup campaign, but let’s not be too downhearted. Fifa President and luddite-in-chief, Sepp Blatter, has now apologised to the FA for that refereeing blunder on Sunday that saw Frank Lampard’s goal disallowed. Goal-line technology will surely be coming soon to a football stadium near you, closely followed (I hope) by Blatter on a platter.

As the British press put the boot into Capello and his men, Wimbledon had the problem of trying follow up what some have dubbed Magic Monday. The 4th round of the Championships had seen Andy Roddick’s sensational exit at the hands of one Yen-Hsun Lu, the man forgetful BBC commentators insisted on calling “the man from Chinese Taipei”. Elsewhere, drama queen Novak Djokovic unwisely indulged in a spot of chest-baring after defeating Lleyton Hewitt, while Kim Clijsters got the better of Justine Henin in “the battle of the Belgians”.

So the line-up for Ladies quarter finals day looked very much like a case of Venus Williams, Serena Williams, super mom Clijsters and a bunch of other people who aren’t exactly household names. Previewing the action, BBC DJ Richard Bacon attempted to stir things a bit with tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend by suggesting the prospect of another Williams vs Williams final was “boring”. The appropriate response to this ill-informed nonsense from a broadcasting non-entity like Bacon would, of course, contain several expletives and the word “up”. I’ll leave it to your imagination.

As it turned out, the results were anything but predictable. I must admit that Venus’s latest opponent, Tsvetana Pironkova, was a new “ova” on me. If pressed, I might have hazarded a guess that she was a statuesque blonde from the Russian Federation, with a decent two-handed backhand, an American accent and the word Bolliettieri stamped somewhere about her person.

But Pironkova turns out to be a 22-year-old Bulgarian brunette with a previous win over the number 2 seed and a refreshingly positive attitude towards tackling the Williams juggernaut: “I thought I could win. I was really going for it.” Venus was soon hitting the heights on the shriek-o-meter, but her game was misfiring and she committed 29 unforced errors as she crashed to a 6-2, 6-3 defeat — her worst display at Wimbledon.

What happens when the nicest person ever to play tennis (Clijsters) comes up against one of the game’s most lachrymose competitors (Vera Zvonareva)? Followers of Russian tennis categorise Vera as the one who cries a lot, so that we can distinguish her from the one with a dodgy serve (Elena Dementieva), the one who looks almost as hot in a bikini as Kournikova (Maria Sharapova), and the one who looks an awful lot like Marat Safin (Dinara Safina). Is that clear?

Kim was undone by another patchy performance, losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and, perhaps, squandering her best opportunity of reaching a Wimbledon final. Anyone who remembers Clijsters’s error-strewn French Open final against Jennifer Capriati back in 2001 will know that her game can be a very hit and miss affair. So it proved today.

On Thursday, Serena Williams will hope to add to her impressive tally of 73 aces when she takes on — you guessed it — another opponent from Eastern Europe in the shape of unseeded Czech Petra Kvitova.

As if that wasn’t more than enough “ovas” for one day, Wimbledon wheeled out some big names from yesteryear in the Ladies Invitation Doubles event. Leading the way in the glamour stakes were Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis, flashing their million-dollar smiles at the salivating photographers and making their British opponents Sam Smith and Anne Hobbs look rather dowdy and distinctly slow. The best moment of this one-sided encounter came when Kournikova had to call the trainer on court to deal with a nasty blister on her hand. It was more Hollywood than Wimbledon.

But even Kournikova has to take a back seat to the biggest “ova” of them all — Martina Navratilova — who was teaming up for the doubles with another former champion, Jana Novotna. Martina, who recently underwent radiation treatment for breast cancer, will climb Mount Kilimanjaro for charity later this year. But for now, the winner of 9 Wimbledon singles titles is back where she belongs, with her feet firmly planted on the hallowed turf of SW19.

(Article first published as They Think It’s All Ova: Wimbledon 2010, Day 8 on Blogcritics.)


All England expectorates

It was all going so well. Wimbledon 2010 (that’s twenty-ten in BBC speak) had been bathed in sunshine and blessed with an air of gentility that only a visit from HM the Queen can bestow. Then, on Day 5, grumpy Victor Hanescu had to ruin it all by spitting at the crowd during his match on (where else) Court 18.

Ironically, Victor turned out to be the loser here on all counts. Despite holding four match points in the third set, the 31st seed ended his contest with Daniel Brands abruptly, when he retired hurt at 0-3 down in the fifth. Hanescu has now been fined £10,000 for committing two of the seven deadly sins of tennis: unsportsmanlike conduct and not trying hard enough.

Hanescu, who has since apologised, was apparently incensed by some drunken oiks in the crowd who were taunting him. It’s a good thing that England’s Wayne Rooney didn’t sign off from his “nice to see your own fans booing” tirade after the Algeria match with one of his trademark gobs. But given that “Wazza” has been so off-target during the World Cup, he probably would have ended up fouling his own misshapen chin.

Anyone who watches football regularly will be all too familiar with the sight of the highly paid stars of the Premier League leaving their sputum all over grounds up and down the land. Is this soccer’s equivalent of dogs marking out their territory? During the swine flu epidemic last year, the Health Protection Agency warned of the increased risk of infection from footballers doing what comes naturally to them. An HPA spokesman admonished our thoughtless stars: “Spitting is disgusting at all times. It’s unhygienic and unhealthy, particularly if you spit close to other people.”

Yes, as any good parent will impress on their child: spitting is disgusting. The exceptions to this rule might include a pugilist who had just had his front teeth knocked out and wanted to avoid choking. It is also permissible if you happen to find yourself in one of those situations — the dentist’s chair, or a wine-tasting — in which swallowing would be the stupid option. In these cases a purpose-made receptacle is provided for your convenience.

But there’s a big difference between routine expectoration on the playing field and spitting as an act of pure aggression and contempt. That’s why Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas found himself in a whole load of Hanescu-like trouble last year, when he was accused of spitting at Hull City’s assistant manager at the end of an FA Cup replay. Fabregas was cleared by the FA, but this wasn’t exactly new territory for the fiery Catalan, as he’d appeared to give Michael Ballack more than just a piece of his mind during a Champions League tie in 2005. The evidence is, as they say, inconclusive.

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me has attracted a lot of attention for the protagonist’s merciless attacks on the women in his life. But with all the fists flying around, the moment I found most shocking was when Lou (Casey Affleck) coldly spits on his girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson) as the prelude to a merciless assault. In a film with many ugly scenes, this was the worst.

It’s too much to hope that England’s footballers will set some kind of precedent by scoring a hatful of goals and keeping their gobs shut for the duration of the World Cup. But, whatever the provocation, I do hope Wayne Rooney keeps his powder dry and doesn’t use his mouth to aim anything offensive in the direction of the referee, the crowd or the opposition.


NeverEnding story in SW19

Strange things have been happening at Wimbledon 2010, and it’s only Day 3. The tournament began with the usually sublime Roger Federer’s pun-tastically fallible first-round display against the unheralded Colombian Alejandro Falla. Watching the champion’s lacklustre five-set win was commentator John McEnroe, whose questionable decision to dye his hair had already sent me rushing to adjust the colour balance on my TV set.

In case you missed it, “the silver fox” as one British newspaper dubbed him is now dispensing his authoritative views on the game from beneath a mop of sandy brown hair.

The effect, combined with an ill-advised joke about his ex-wife (Tatum O’Neal), was to make McEnroe seem less like one of the sport’s towering intellects and more like a middle-aged loser on a disastrous blind date. This short video from 7 Reasons.org sums it up nicely.

But Mac’s tonsorial issues were merely a distraction from the events unfolding on one of Wimbledon’s less celebrated courts. Out on Court 18 beanpole American John Isner (6 ft 9in) and French qualifier Nicolas Mahut had seen their first-round match halted at two sets apiece on Tuesday evening because of bad light. Twenty-four hours later, the score was tied at a credibility-defying 59-59 in the fifth set, when this 10-hour marathon once again had to be stopped.

Earlier in the day, BBC football commentator Mark Lawrenson had, somewhat indelicately, remarked that watching England play was “a cure for constipation”. After witnessing only half a set of this unfeasibly long tennis match, I think we may have found a new cure for insomnia.

English fans don’t much like penalty shoot-outs in football — mainly because we’re no good at them. (If you want to make Chelsea captain John Terry cry, just say the magic words “Moscow, May 2008″.) But there’s a good reason why sports have introduced concepts like extra time, “golden goals” and (my favourite) “sudden death” play-offs. Sporting contests should not go on for hour after hour with absolutely no prospect of a conclusion in sight. Stalemate, deadlock, call it what you like, but to me it’s just very boring.

Tennis, of course, does have a tie-breaker. But three out of the four Grand Slams, including Wimbledon, do not use it in the concluding set of singles matches. It’s one of the things we love about the World’s Greatest Tournament — like the strictly enforced rule about “all-white” clothing and those ubiquitous bottles of Robinsons Barley Water.

So as the weary tennis warriors clocked up all sorts of new records — match duration, number of games, number of aces served — we moved inexorably into what I call BBC “car-crash TV” mode. This is what happens when editorial judgment and common sense go out of the window as the Corporation throws more and more reporters at an event in a bid to convince us how very important/significant/unprecedented it all is.

Was a delirious John Isner about to collapse at the umpire’s chair and become the first on-court fatality at this year’s Championships? Was that a six-pack Nicolas Mahut was revealing as he entertained the breathless masses with a timely shirt change? Would the players make some ad hoc arrangement to finish things off quickly if the score reached 60-60?

Maybe it was the hair dye or the extreme altitude, but John McEnroe’s views on the contest as he watched from an adjacent roof were verging on the nonsensical. He later told the BBC: “John Isner and Nicolas Mahut’s epic match on Court 18 is the greatest advertisement we’ve ever had for our sport beyond the spectacle of a Wimbledon final like Roger Federer versus Rafa Nadal.” Seriously? To me this seemed more like the tennis equivalent of the punishing and pointless dance-hall marathons depicted in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

But of all the verbiage dished up by increasingly hysterical commentators last night, there was nothing to match the frequent assertions that both these record-breaking contestants were somehow “winners” — whatever the result. With 163 games played and no end in sight, it would take a miracle for either man to progress beyond the next round. The truth is they are both out for the count.


Shriek Forever After: Wimbledon’s latest racket

These are testing times for English sports fans. As “Ingerlund” laboured to another sterile draw in South Africa, it was already game over on the lawns of SW19. For the first time in Wimbledon’s 133-year history, no Englishman has made it into the main draw. Yes, with wildcards in even shorter supply than goals from Wayne Rooney, home fans will have to pin their hopes on our ladies and on Scotsmen Andy Murray and Jamie Baker.

In a further move to crush our spirits, the All England Club has announced that vuvuzelas will not be allowed at the Championships. So if you were entertaining any hopes of blowing off a little steam and generating some World Cup “atmosphere” around the hallowed turf of Centre Court, forget it. This is one sporting event that remains determined to maintain some sense of decorum among the spectators.

But even as the Club cruelly rains on the vuvuzela lovers’ parade, a far greater threat to the tournament’s tranquility lurks in the women’s draw. I refer, of course, to a possible 4th round meeting between Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Portugal’s Michelle Larcher de Brito.

If the mere bracketing of those names in the same sentence (let alone the same tennis court) doesn’t fill you with trepidation, it should. If you think the Sharapova shriek is an assault on the senses, you haven’t heard anything like Portugal’s 17-year-old Bollettieri babe.

The good news is that the dominating presence of Wimbledon champion Serena Williams stands in the way of this match-up from hell. The top seed is not exactly renowned for her noiseless progress through the draw, but compared with these two banshees she’s positively restrained.

During the furore that followed Larcher de Brito’s exit from last year’s French Open, British journalists rushed to pen stories on what might happen at Wimbledon. Was she the loudest grunter in the history of the game? With Nick Bollettieri identified as the common denominator behind three of the sport’s noisiest ladies — Monica Seles, Sharapova and the young Portuguese — the coach was quick to deny that this was something he taught his girls: “The funny thing is that if these women weren’t great players, no one would really focus on them. It is the fact that they are winners that makes people so upset.”

Really, Nick? I think what’s making people upset is that you have patented a fiendishly boring brand of women’s tennis that is bad to watch and murder on the ears. I must defer here to the superior knowledge of the YouTube user who likens the sound of Larcher de Brito to “foxes having sex”.

But all the grunting, shouting and shrieking is but a brief interlude between the main business on court these days — towelling down. I can’t pinpoint the moment when towels migrated from the players’ chairs to the back of the court, but I’m pretty sure it signalled the point when play ceased to be “continuous”.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch tennis — either live or on TV — I like the emphasis to be on rackets making explosive contact with balls. You can argue about the merits of serve and volley versus baseline attrition, but as long as the game is proceeding in a purposeful manner I can generally manage to stay awake.

But just as modern cinema is cursed with meandering plots that often outstay their welcome by a good 30 minutes, tennis increasingly seems to be played in “Rafa time”. I’m a big fan of the Spanish superstar and the energy, commitment and sheer panache he brings to the game. Unfortunately, Nadal’s rather loose interpretation of the “20 seconds between points” rule is in danger of turning his matches into the equivalent of a 12-part mini-series. Like most players, it appears he cannot function without the compulsive towelling off between points that has made ballboys unwilling participants in one of the game’s more tedious rituals.

Back in February 1979, then World Number 1 Martina Navratilova completed a 6-0, 6-0 rout of Marita Redondo in just 29 minutes. I didn’t see that match, but I’m guessing that Martina didn’t spend too much time rearranging bottles of isotonic drinks, or bouncing the ball a hundred times between serves. Even Serena at her most formidable wouldn’t get close to this kind of rapid demolition job. It’s a different game now and I think fans are entitled to feel a little impatient.

Thank goodness for the introduction of a little Hitchcockian suspense in the form of the Hawk-Eye ball-tracking system, which was first used at Wimbledon in 2007. After decades of dodgy officiating and intermittently amusing player tantrums we finally have a piece of technology that silences (most of) the doubts about where the ball landed. Even the dullest match can be enlivened by betting on how well or badly the players do trying to second guess the technology.

So I’ll happily sit through the inevitable rain breaks, disruptions from shrieking players and longueurs of “Rafa time” just to get to the heart-stopping moment when Hawk-Eye swings into action again. It’s where innovation trumps tradition.

(Article first published as Wimbledon 2010: Of Shrieks, Spaniards, And Serena on Blogcritics.)


A rage to whinge

Wimbledon is more than three weeks away, but already I can feel an attack of Murrayitis coming on. For non-sufferers, I can reveal that this is a chronic condition and one that can only be cured by a studious avoidance of professional tennis. For some people it’s the onset of hay fever that casts a pall over spring. For me, it’s the advent of the European tennis season, bringing with it the now familiar and incredibly tedious question: “Can Andy Murray win a Grand Slam?”

Let me explain: I love tennis, or at least I used to. Back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s there was a glorious era when Britain’s male tennis players could largely be ignored from one Wimbledon to the next. Of course, John Lloyd, Andrew Castle or Jeremy Bates might rock the boat by winning the odd round of our annual grass-court jamboree. But they would quickly be despatched back to Loserville (or the BBC commentary box), leaving me free to revel in the exploits of true greats like Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras.

Those days of sublime skills now seem like a golden era. It was a period in which the men’s singles at Wimbledon wasn’t reduced to endless speculation about British hopes of reclaiming the trophy last won by Fred Perry back in 1936. It couldn’t last. In 1996 “Tiger” Tim Henman arrived on the scene, reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals and igniting the hopes of a nation. The dark era of tennis viewing known as “Timbledon” had begun.

Tim had a brief flirtation with being a tennis bad boy in 1995, when he was disqualified from Wimbledon for throwing a strop and striking a ball girl — with a tennis ball. A bit feeble, really. John McEnroe or Jeff Tarango would surely have thrown her into the stands and done some real damage. But this incident proved to be an aberration. The nice but dull Tim then spent the next decade flashing his unattractive teeth, saying “urr” a lot during interviews and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against unheralded opponents.

He never won a Grand Slam and, most frustratingly for home fans, failed to reach the final of Wimbledon. The British media and a large section of the populace remains convinced that Tim would have won the title in 2001, but for (unpatriotic) weather raining on his parade and interrupting his epic semi-final with Goran Ivanisevic. No one (except me) seems to have even considered the possibility that our man might have gone on to lose in the final to Aussie Pat Rafter, a man who won two US Open titles.

Here comes summer

As Tim’s career entered its twilight years I entertained a brief fantasy that life might return to normal and that my favourite sport might once again be bearable to watch on BBC TV. Fat chance. In 2005, just as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were tying on their headbands and getting ready to dominate the sport, along came Dunblane’s Mr Grumpy.

Andy Murray, or “the Murrayman” as one of my friends has not-so-affectionately dubbed him, looked as though he was going to be the real deal. Unlike Tim, who had that attractive but fragile serve and volley game, Murray was equipped with an arsenal of strokes that would soon propel him up the rankings.

Does it sound incredibly churlish to say that Britain’s Great Tennis Hope clearly lacked Rafa’s sex appeal or Roger’s genius? He was also encumbered with a clueless elder brother, Jamie, who won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 2007. But the real problem, even for the success-starved British media, was Murray’s surly personality.

Now as someone who grew up watching two of tennis’s biggest moaners, McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, I should have been able to overlook this minor fault in one of our own. I tried to feel sympathetic about his (not supporting the) England football team gaffe during the 2006 World Cup. I could see why he moaned about the new roof at Wimbledon last year. I could even understand why he chose to skip the Davis Cup earlier this year, thus consigning the team to an ignominious defeat against Lithuania.

Here comes summer

But I guess I’m just very superficial. A tennis star who doesn’t wear a colourful bandana with panache, doesn’t have an all-year-round tan and doesn’t win big is just never going to get away with being such a five-star whinger. So, as the French Open continues and the British press deludes itself into believing that Federer and Nadal could both be beaten, Murray’s progress through the draw pains me.

Already this week I have watched him sulk in his chair during changeovers and berate the umpire about his opponent’s slow play, or the fact that someone removed his energy drink without permission. Then today, there was a litany of complaints about the fact that his rackets had not been strung to his satisfaction.

He’s young, rich, successful, utterly charmless and constantly in my face. So, I must mute the TV sound, or just turn off altogether until that happy day when the Murray era ends and another Great British Hope (probably Laura Robson) arrives to take his place.

Article first published as Andy Murray: A Rage to Whinge on Blogcritics.


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