ADVANCE hype can make sporting fools of us all – just ask England’s 1982 World Cup squad. Having released a pre-tournament stomp-along-at-home single called “This Time (We’ll Get It Right)”, Ron Greenwood’s men were knocked out in the second group stage after a goalless draw with Spain which saw Kevin Keegan miss an open goal from eight yards.
And they didn’t even get the consolation of a No.1 hit either, as their song was kept off the top of the singles charts by “Ebony and Ivory”.
Perhaps, then, it was a mistake to get too excited about Andy Murray’s chances of becoming Wimbledon’s first British men’s singles champion since 1936. (Although at least Murray didn’t release a song. Tennis has always had more class like that.)
The level of hype surrounding Murray at Wimbledon this year was higher than anything Tim Henman ever had to face. And this was largely because Murray, unlike Henman, has given a genuine impression over the last 12 months that he will – one day – win a Grand Slam tournament.
With Henman, there was always a sense of hope rather than expectation when it came to Wimbledon. He would usually get to the last eight – and there was a period when he was a regular in the last four too. (It’s worth remembering that he has made more semi-final appearances – four – than any other British men’s singles player since the Second World War.) But when he got there, it was usually a case of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best – as he was outshone first by Pete Sampras and then by Roger Federer.
Henman’s only serious chance of winning Wimbledon came in 2001, when Sampras was on the way down, and Federer was only just starting to make an impression on the Grand Slam circuit. Goran Ivanisevic’s big serve and a long rain interruption put paid to Henman’s hopes.
With Murray, though, there is a sense that he may not need a lucky draw or a changing of the guard at the top to sneak in for a Grand Slam victory. He has, over the last year, proved himself capable of beating both Federer and Rafael Nadal, the world’s two best men’s singles players. He might, on another day, have beaten Andy Roddick to reach this year’s Wimbledon final (he has beaten the American six times in nine meetings).
As it was, there was no Murray on Centre Court today. But Henman’s assertion on Friday night that the 22-year-old from Dunblane would one day win Wimbledon was more than just jingoism. It was borne of a belief that Murray has made huge strides since he went out to Nadal in last year’s Wimbledon quarter-final – and if he can make further improvements over the next year, he might just be lifting the trophy next July.
He still has improvements to make, as has been noted by Larry Stefanki, Roddick’s coach. Stefanki pointed out that Murray didn’t have an answer to Roddick’s aggressive game plan on Friday – with the American attacking the Brit’s second serve and winning more points at the net than anyone expected him to.
According to Stefanki, Murray needs to be ready to add a similar attacking approach to brilliant footwork around the court and superb technique. Get all that right, and he might have a chance, even assuming Nadal is back to challenge for the crown next year.
Even if Nadal is back, Federer will still be the man to beat next year after today’s extraordinary final against Roddick, a match which went on for so long, and went so solidly with the server, that it might have had Samuel Beckett tapping his watch.
Federer came up with the victory thanks to his first break of serve of the match, on the first and only match point, four hours and 17 minutes in to an exhausting contest, winning 16-14 in the final set.
It was harsh on Roddick, who showed all the determination that saw him overcome Murray, but couldn’t add to the breaks of serve that had won him the first and fourth sets. But Federer deserves great credit for hanging on in the face of the formidable Roddick serve – notably saving four set points to win the second set tie-break and keep himself in the match.
His reward was an historic 15th Grand Slam victory – surpassing the watching Pete Sampras’ record – as well as a best-ever sixth Wimbledon men’s singles title, taking him past the tally of Bjorn Borg, who was also a spectator this afternoon.
Both Federer and Roddick looked knackered by the end, and the BBC commentary team sounded just as exhausted, with Andrew Castle struggling for new ways to say “both players are giving it everything” as both players gave it everything, and the TV director ran out of famous faces in the crowd to focus on, and so settled for another shot of Sampras.
There were, as usual, plenty of famous faces there. This was surely the only event in 2009 that will be attended by Sir Alex Ferguson, Woody Allen, Sir Trevor McDonald, Henry Kissinger and the Governor of the Bank of England. Yesterday’s women’s singles final, on the other hand, had to make do with Michael Parkinson.
The women’s singles petered out into yet another Venus versus Serena final (which you might have thought would have given Snoop Dogg the chance to re-release Signs, what with its lyric about seeing Venus and Serena at the Wimbledon arena. He could have done a Cliff and performed it in the Royal Box, which would have been highly amusing, if only to see how much it annoyed Parkinson).
At least, though, there were signs that next year’s women’s singles might be a bit better, with German teenager Sabine Lisicki showing genuine promise, and Elena Dementieva giving Serena enough of a scare in the semi-final to show that she might yet have a second Grand Slam final in her.
As for the men’s singles, Nadal’s withdrawal always made it likely that the final would be Federer plus one. Us Brits hoped that the plus one might be Murray, but Roddick had other ideas – and at least the American made a good fight of it today. Maybe next time, though, Mr. Murray will get it right. I would not bet against him. Then again, advance hype can make sporting fools of us all…