Teardrops and Raindrops in SW19

In Sport on July 10, 2012 at 4:46 PM

The Wimbledon Men’s Singles Draw between Roger Federer and Andy Murray was notable for two types of falling water droplets. Firstly, the slightly less dramatic; the roof being closed due to the torrential downpour that hit SW19 at around 4pm, with the scores locked at 4-6 7-5 1-1. The second, far more unexpected: Andy Murray’s tears that greeted his heart-rending 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 loss to the new-number 1.

They were the result of a tremendously spirited performance from the 25-year-old from Dunblane which still leaves him as the nearly-man of men’s tennis – despite his great efforts, without a Grand Slam title to his name. Murray has much to proud of from this tournament, especially considering he was somewhat written off before it, even branded a  ‘drama queen’, after a back problem reared its ugly head at the French. But from his straight sets victory over Cilic in the Last 16, after a few merely workmanlike wins – and a lucky break in Nadal’s exit – he gave performances at times majestic and at times resilient, often both at once. The Ferrer quarter-final is a particularly good case in point. Nicknamed the ‘Little Beast’ for his diminutive tenacity, Ferrer had been in brilliant form leading up to the match, having beaten a far-from abject Del Potro in straights the round before. Against Murray, the Spaniard took a tight first 7-5 in the breaker, and was 5-2 up in the second thanks to some impressive shotmaking and stunning running. But Murray dug deep in his reserves to pull the tie-break out of his arse, and went onto to, unusually for a player often derided as boring, completely hit his opponent off the court.

People may well decry yesterday’s tears as being of the crocodile variety, perhaps because Murray did play well (ignoring the fact that many of these detractors are the same ones who, hypocritically, declaim Murray a dull, dour, emotionless Scot). But it’s precisely for this reason that, paradoxically, the loss will be so hard to take. I’d venture it would actually be easier for him to take in some respects had he been beaten comfortably in straight sets; without the mix so poisonous to professional sports people, like Murray – victory so palpable yet unattainable.

That he got to the final and undoubtedly played well will likely be of little short-term consolation to Murray. Nor, I imagine, will the fact that he gets to go home to the lovely Kim Sears in their £5m Surrey home with another £575,000 in his pocket (he’d swap this sum in a heartbeat for the pure glory). This seeming contrast between his mood and his riches seems to be the source of much of the derision of Murray. But being unemotional doesn’t mean one’s unhappy or ungrateful. Fact is you don’t get to be 4thbest in the world at anything , much less a sport as individual and psychological as tennis, by accepting merely ‘good’ (even someone as ostensibly carefree as Tsonga is a bloody hard self-taskmaster). Basically by definition, any player in the top 10, will be pathologically perfectionist in their tennis. Surely it’s better that he won’t settle for second best.

The inevitable shoulda woulda couldas probably only hurt more when the alternative outcomes could reasonably have led to more than mere consolation sets. And they certainly could have yesterday. Had Murray converted either of the two break points he had at 2-2 in the second (or the pair at 4-4, or even held at 5-6 40-15), he would have in all likelihood opened up an imposing two-set lead. Also, he could have taken a few half-chances to break in the fourth. But he didn’t.

When the hurt subsides, Murray should take solace in the fact the reason he didn’t win was far more to do with Federer’s exquisite tennis under supreme pressure – the sign of a true champ – than it was him ‘bottling’ it. And he should be proud of the way his game has developed under Lendl’s tutelage. Admittedly, he didn’t serve brilliantly, but his second serve has really come on, while his first has remained a considerable weapon. He has added extra layers of physical ability and mental steel and he has become significantly more attacking, regularly hitting lines, which has added a different dimension to his game, as shown with him going toe-to-toe with Federer in some pounding, relentless baseline rallies.

Problem is, every time Murray steps his game up, some combination of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are there, lurking ominously round the corner, ready to up their respective games to even more stratospheric levels. Let’s just hope they hit a ceiling sometime, so Murray can catch them up (or that there’s some kind of tennis equivalent of Lasagne-gate, poisoning Nadal, Federer and Djokovic for one Slam)…

Joel Durston

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