I love tennis. Yes I do. I’m watching tennis right now, such are the joys of home employment. The Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club, West Kensington, London, meeting ground of some of the finer acts on the ATP circuit, currently hosting messirs Murray and Mahut for my entertainment pleasure. What is there not to enjoy? Tennis demonstrates some of the finest examples of athleticism, strength, coordination and mental power in all of sport. No team mates to rely on, nothing to hide behind, just you, your tools, the court and your opponent.
Can I play tennis? God no. Not for years anyway, prior to the days when I consciously decided that a pace faster than brisk was just uncouth and not for me. I, like millions of others, defer my prowess and aspirations to the likes of Murray. I remember in the dying days of the Henman era there were whispers of the up and coming talent in the then scrawny Scotsman. Junior US Open Champion generally says very little for the later main circuit success rate, but then being British, anyone who could even spell ‘tennis’ was probably going to be a little bit exciting.
Murray, however, actually was exciting. With Henman and his excruciating but thoroughly enjoyable years heading for the exit, there was the grim prospect of an Alex Bogdanovitch number one, so thank god. 2004 marked the end of Murray’s junior days and brought him his Junior Grand Slam success, and early 2005 saw him enter full ATP events during the clay season. Having trained through his youth in Spain on the red surface, this perhaps made sense but his weakness on those courts in comparison to hard and grass was somewhat evident. He didn’t make his mark until the grass season and good third round runs at Queen’s and Wimbledon.
It was his epic five set defeat to David Nalbandian on the SW19 Centre Court that probably lit the spark of interest in Murray for most people. Henman had made an early second round exit and Nalbandian at the time was a major force. Seeing this puny little chap taking on the gruff and intimidating Argentine instilled an instant sense of hope. That is I think a distinctly British thing. The moment Murray took a set in that match I was daydreaming about his woad covered face terrifying the enthusiasts as he stormed triumphant around the grounds at the end of the last Sunday, Federer’s severed head in hand.
While it took a few more years, a few finals heartbreaks, a lot more muscle and couple of different coaching set-ups, he got there. 2012 was a barnstormer, and although tragically falling to Federer at the actual Wimbledon event, Murray was glorious in defeating both Djokovic and Federer on his way to Olympic Gold at the All England Club. Defeating Djokovic again for the US Open Championship sealed the deal. The UK has a genuinely world class tennis player, not to mention in the time of arguably the greatest players who ever stepped on court.
Just watching him finish off Mahut, his 2012 Queen’s dominator, in straight sets, over the course of two rain disrupted days, I’m gearing myself up for the pre-Wimbledon hype again. All the speculation and comment and column inches in the world won’t make a jot of difference, but as if believing it will happen is the currency of reality, I will read it all to reinforce my own hope that Murray will finally bring the Wimbledon trophy home after more than 80 years of British failure. He has to. He must. There are meak signs of the talent in store after Murray, with the likes of Ward, Evans, Corrie, Golding, Baker and Edmund all toiling for success.
But if Murray can’t do it, short of dramatic advances for the younger cast or the emergence of another unlikely talent, the wait could prove to be indefinite. Keep your football, spare me the cricket until the Ashes, forget this lame F1 season and accept the Lions will have a strong tour of Australia, this year, all eyes should be on Wimbledon.