Good news for EastEnders fans: Andy Murray’s 4th-round match against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon is scheduled first on Centre Court today. So unless the 4th seed and his French opponent get involved in a contest of truly Isner-esque proportions they won’t be playing havoc with BBC schedules this evening. The nail-biting drama and intemperate language on BBC1 tonight will be coming from Albert Square not SW19.
Usually I’d be excited about the second Monday of Wimbledon and the prospect of wall-to-wall match-ups between the greatest tennis players in the world. But after more than 30 years of dedicated ball-watching I think I’ve finally had enough. Even the sight of Rafael Nadal’s digitally enhanced torso wrapped round last Friday’s edition of Metro didn’t reignite the flame.
It’s not the game itself that’s become a big turn-off for me. I’m not so decrepit that I can’t still leap out of my chair when Rafa bends one of his trademark forehands round the net or Federer disdainfully swats back an indifferent second serve. The problem is the BBC coverage, which has been in steady decline ever since someone decided that the world’s greatest tournament could be boiled down to the perennial question: “Can Andy Murray Win Wimbledon?” To be fair this tendency began with “Timbledon” in the 90s and Murray’s arrival has merely changed the accent slightly.
I have complained about this before — only to be rudely slapped down by posters who confuse my criticism of the British sports media with a lack of support for Murray himself. If I lived anywhere but the UK, I’d be free to enjoy the quality of Andy’s tennis without all the attendant hype. I may be wrong, but I suspect viewers in the US and Australia don’t have to watch reporter Garry Richardson’s teeth-grindingly awful post-practice encounters with the Scot. Murray, unshaven and dripping with sweat patiently endures a grilling over his pre-match preparations. But do we really care which film he watched on TV last night? Actually, Garry’s questions are so rambling that if he was in court (as opposed to on court), the opposing lawyer would be shouting “Relevance, Your Honour!”
The BBC’s role as self-appointed Andy Murray cheering squad is just one annoying aspect of today’s inferior tennis coverage. As an armchair spectator you’re totally at the mercy of Sue Barker, John Inverdale and the BBC’s army of commentators, experts and former players. Unless you choose to watch with the sound off (I frequently use the mute button these days), you can’t avoid being crushed under the weight of (irrelevant) statistics, oft-repeated anecdotes and sniggering comments about Nadal’s shirt-changing routine.
You might think that the increased court coverage and wide range of commentating talent would be good news for viewers, but I’m not so sure. If you have a “red button” you can now opt to watch the players you like — as opposed to joining the collective dismay over the early demise of Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, et al. But thanks to the BBC’s (not-so) wonderful interactive service, I still missed the end of Andy Roddick’s third-round defeat by Feliciano Lopez, because the feed had cut away to Francesca Schiavone on Court 5!
The bigger question is how so many different people can all end up sounding exactly the same. I don’t mean, of course, that John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Pat Cash have the same accent. It’s more that they all seem to be spouting from what you might call The Big Book of Universal Truths About Tennis. These include:
- The men’s game has never been better than it is now — thanks to the excellence of Roger, Rafa, Novak and Andy.
- Men’s tennis is so lucky to have great sporting ambassadors like Roger and Rafa.
- Roger is once again looking unbeatable.
- Maria “Sharaposer” is back to her best — and not just in the shrieking department.
- The Centre Court retractable roof is just marvellous. (Shame they didn’t put one on Court One, too.)
- It’s great to see Serena Williams back — especially when she cries on court.
As a Nadal fan, I’m particularly amused by the fact that (as usual) he’s being written off in the rush to talk up Murray and Federer. The guy’s won four of the last five Grand Slams, yet there still seems to be only a grudging acceptance of his genius. I don’t care how imperious Federer looks in the early rounds — it’s what happens this week that counts. Should he and Rafa make it through to their fourth final here, my money is on the Spaniard.
Martina Navratilova’s opinions are usually worth hearing, but in today’s Times, she echoes The Guardian‘s Kevin Mitchell in declaring Fed the most likely winner. What really caught my eye, though, was her assertion that the top women players aren’t getting their fair share of time on the show courts. “Research shows that people turn up wanting to watch the men but when they leave the tournament is was the women they really enjoyed watching.”
In the words of John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!” What kind of research was that, Martina? Not to be crude, but did you ask them whether it was the tennis or the acres of tanned flesh on display that they found most attractive? Admittedly I did enjoy watching the contest between Venus Williams and the Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm. This all-court encounter was a bit like stepping back in time — more emphasis on guile and less on grunting. What a shame the commentators ruined it by reminding me every five minutes that Date-Krumm is (wait for it) 40 years of age!
I might tune in later today to see whether Rafa can beat Juan-Martin del Potro. I’m sure the Spaniard won’t be guilty of underestimating del Potro. But even if he reaches Sunday’s final to play Federer again I’m already yawning at the prospect of being reminded about the last time they met in 2008. That final is now universally acknowledged to be Wimbledon’s Greatest Ever Match. If like me you disagree and still harbour fond memories of Borg vs Gerulaitis (1976) or Borg vs McEnroe (1980), just remember to turn down the volume on your set on Sunday — and keep it there for the duration.
June 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm
May I add to your list the nauseating scoffing about what would happen if you knocked Nadal’s bottles over.
The commentators certainly appear to create a false reality for themselves. Especially concerning Federer. It’s like they are all subscribed to his fan club. All of them. At Garros I swim against the common tide and say that Federer was absolutely awful until he played Novak in the Semi. Even then it was not the same Novak we had witnessed all year. But look at Federer against Mofils was diabolical, on both sides. Federer simply cannot reduce his unforced errors and in the final he was totally exhausted, totally.
As for Rafa. He is constantly patronized and they have created the perception that it’s OK to do this. They have created this new line of discourse about Federer (especially as Nadal has beaten virtually all of his records they’ve had to come up with something). Now Federer is always “graceful” and “sublime” and of course, has “style” whereas Nadal is a brute who can only hit the ball hard. All of which has no meaning and is utter nonsense for both players.
They (commentators) worked themselves up into such a frenzy over Federer’s “style” in that Roger “apparently” still had white socks during the Garros final without a speck of the orange clay. The likes of Andrew Castle had to keep banging on about it … the reality of course, was that Roger’s socks were covered in clay and all that happened was that he changed them during the rain delay but they quickly got covered in clay again, as they would have.
More seriously (as if this wasn’t bad enough) they never get to the root of anything. I only heard Martina speak out about the very different balls at Roland Garros. As the tournament started John Lloyd was going on about how Nadal would love them as it’d make his spin even more effective. I was thinking… huh? How will lighter balls help Nadal? Of course, 2 short days later Lloyd was yelping the opposite when he realised it wouldn’t help Nadal. BUT more to the point, why didn’t anybody ask why this crucial part of the game had been changed? Can you imagine how the players would react if they turn up for the World Series only to be told that the baseball weighs significantly less??!!! Someone decided to change it, it didn’t happen by magic.
Equally they just state how the clay is playing more like a hard court. It certainly is. And… why has this been changed? We need to know don’t we for goodness sake? These massive parts of the game are changing affecting all the players and yet nobody can tell me why. There’s no point in having a clay court season if it plays like hard court.
Don’t even get me started on the draws. I hate the fact that I can predict every year at Wimbledon who they will and not give to Federer. I’d have bet everything I own that he’d not have Del Potro on his side of the draw and essentially gets a walk to the semi final. Which is OK when you’re no.1 seed, but not no.3!
June 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm
Marco, I think you should be writing this blog! Couldn’t agree more. So tired of the patronising attitude towards Rafa. Hopefully he’ll beat JMDP, but if he serves as well as Muller did it will be very close.
The absurd scheduling which means that all 4th round matches are on the same day does no one any favours. Tomic’s had a great win out on Ct 18 but hardly anyone will have noticed. We’ve been waiting for someone new to challenge the top guys. Bet Nole’s not relishing that prospect.
Wimbledon and the Beeb can kiss Roger’s ass all they like but I don’t think he’ll win again.
June 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm
Tomic looks fabulous. The plan was that it should have been Soderling here. And of course anyone remotely dangerous have to all may each other before they reach “Stylish” Roger. #nochangetherethen
I’m hoping Tomic can keep his head. I am constantly disappointed about the lack of real rivalry in tennis now where everybody has to be best friends. I somehow suspect sponsorship, $$$ and pleasing them has something to do with it. It’s why Connors was so great for me, and Hewitt too. I think Tomic can go all the way. Sharapova is a classic one for me who is just totally false and speaks in rehearsed sound bites. I know nothing about her personality. I saw her being interviewed outside once at Wimbledon and as soon as she thought the camera was off her smile dropped quicker than Roddick’s serve.
I think if Nadal goes out it may be today. Del Potro and his serve are lethal. Let’s see what happens.
Anyway, Nadal and Delpo are out. Let’s compare Nadal’s draw where he’s apparently “not looked convincing” against Federer’s joke where he’s looked “devastating”. It’s always nice to be graced with such cloned commentators.
As a last note… Tim Henman as a commentator? Good Lord.
June 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm
They’re calling Tomic “Bernie the Bolt”, though I suspect Hewitt has a few other names for him . . .
Del Potro’s serving is looking pretty awesome at the moment. Boris and Tim commentating on the same match — what have we done to deserve that? I noticed a Henman reference to a “classic grass-court point” early in the match and Petchey quickly added “in the 21st century”. How times have changed.
Wish del Potro had been on the other side of the draw but, as you say, it’s a total fix.
June 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm
Well if it isn’t a fix then I’m a genius as I have predicted the Wimbledon draws with approx 85% accuracy for years. They used to do it for Tim and now Federer. Nadal somehow slipped through the net and gets shafted, no.1 seed and defending champion.
Remember when Soderling knocked out Federer last year at Garros – apparently it was a huge shock. Back to the false reality they create. It wasn’t a shock at all, Federer had been playing like a chump. And when I such things, I am saying them relative to the champion that he is. But at the time we had Borg churping up that Soderling was the next big thing and … everybody had better look out. What happened? An empty trophy cabinet for Robin, nice chap that he is. And the Wimbledon draw for 2010? Oh he was on Nadal’s side and they met in the Qtr finals. There was a surprise… not.
Well let’s see what Wednesday brings. Hope Nadal’s injury is OK. I somehow think he’ll be on no.1 court. I’d be surprised if they put their darling back there seeing as the poor love had the disrespect to even comment that he was unfamiliar with the surroundings today. WTF?
June 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm
Oh look. Muggins here was right again. Federer first on tomorrow and on Centre and Nadal demoted again to no.1
Funny how the predictions are always so… predictable.
Well done Wimbledon I am sure nobody will dare question how the no. 3 seed gets priority over the defending champion and no. 1 seed.
June 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm
Agreed. But I think Djokovic is the one who really has something to complain about. He’s only been on Centre once, hasn’t he? Absurd degree of bias from the All England Club, the BBC and so-called “quality” newspapers like The Guardian, who gave acres of coverage to Murray again today and short shrift to Nadal and del Potro. I know which court I’ll be watching.
June 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm
You’re absolutely correct of course. Nole used to carry out impressions of other players which really isn’t very stuffy and LTA-like… so that what his card marked. Nadal had long hair and dared have cut off shirts… again not very “gentlemanly”.
Let’s stick with our man Rog… what!
Of course, if anybody dares question they have the “there is no evidence to suggest” mantra. But anyway, this is Britain, one doesn’t question, does one.