From the baseline: Murray feels weight of British expectation
10:53, 27 Jun 2012
The Andy Murray bandwagon is already picking up speed but recent history is against him in his quest to claim his first Grand Slam.....
John Inverdale put his shoulder to the back axle and heaved a might heave. “On the second day of Wimbledon the British rule, okay?” And the bandwagon, again, is off and the race to clamber aboard begins.
Of course, the road will get rickety once Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer come into view but, for now, no-one’s thinking about that. On Henman Hill-cum-Murray Mountain they never do.
After his evisceration of Nikolay Davydenko, Murray, meanwhile, braced himself for the transfer of the weight of British optimism and expectation. He was asked about whether the pressure gets easier or more difficult to bear by a reporter with two hefty-sized feet. His shoulders buckled.
One could imagine the Scot rolling his eyes to the heavens in his own mind – he’s too polite to throw it right back in the questioner’s face – and after running through the usual default responses he admitted it never gets easier. He might have added “thanks for bringing that up” but he let it go. For the British media it’s always good to gently, subtly remind someone what’s expected of them.
It does appear all genteel. With its strawberries and cream and spotting celebrities like waxworks you think you recognise from somewhere long, long ago, it sometimes seems as if it’s just a bouncy castle or two away from a fun park but Wimbledon – and particularly centre court -- can be a cruel, cruel place.
A set and three games in, commentator John McEnroe said of Davydenko’s torment: “The next hour and a half is not going to be easy for him.” For someone who could be crueller on the court than most there was almost an air of voyeuristic glee in his voice.
Before the game the Russian had questioned whether Murray feigns injury to gain an advantage over an opponent. So Murray was up for it and, like bloodthirsty spectators at the Coliseum, everyone wanted in on the gore-fest. Wimbledon had its first Mexican Wave of the summer – albeit a puny, wishy-washy one – and even a little old lady in a yellow cardigan raised her arms as it trickled by.
Nothing Davydenko tried worked. Murray, meanwhile, has a backhand slice with extra zing but less height, and a still ultra-powerful forehand. It seemed at times as if both men were playing tennis from different eras. And, in a way, despite only six years in age between them, they were as Murray won comfortably in three sets.
McEnroe mentioned in commentary that he felt things slide from his mid-twenties on. The statistics tell the same story: he won his last Grand Slam at 25 years of age. It’s a young man’s game. In fact, of the last 37 Slams, Federer, at 28, was the oldest winner when he claimed the Australian Open title in 2010. Andre Agassi, at 32, is the previous oldest winner of a Slam, also in Australia, in 2003.
One can go further. It’s a young man’s game if your name happens to be Nadal or Djokovic. Since Federer’s win in January 2010, the world’s first- and second-ranked players have shared the last nine Slams. Astonishingly, since the US Open in 2003, over the course of 34 Grand Slam events, only three times have the trophies been claimed by anyone other than the top two and Federer – the French Open by Gaston Gaudio in 2004; the Australian by Marat Safin in 2005; and the US by Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
There has never been a rivalry like it. At the moment there are four men playing tennis from a different galaxy and two of them – Nadal and Djokovic – threaten to zip light years ahead. The next generation – of del Potro, Bernard Tomic (gone in the first round) and Marin Cilic – simply can’t keep up.
Nadal, meanwhile, got through an eventful first set against Thomaz Bellucci before blitzing him in the next two. It is brilliant, but mechanical, robotically accurate tennis that can sometimes leave one feeling cold. Maybe it’s a Spanish thing but, it seems, people get sick of perfection.
The Spanish football team are up on charges of boring everyone at the Euros with their hogging of the ball. They’re queuing up on Twitter to castigate La Roja. That might be the modern-day equivalent of standing outside Shakespeare’s place with lanterns and pitchforks ready to denounce him for finding the perfect combination of words for his sonnets. Or sneaking into the Louvre to smear with lipstick a speech bubble over Mona Lisa’s head.
Nadal doesn’t care what anyone thinks and Murray needs to be of the same mindset. Recent history suggests, though, that whatever the third and fourth seeds do, the bandwagon will be overtaken by Spanish and Serbian juggernauts.
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