Tuesday 26 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 2

Heather Watson (GB) bt. Iveta Benesova (CZ) 6-2, 6-1
Francesca Schiavone (I) bt. Laura Robson (GB) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4

Ah, Blighty. Home of us Blighters. It's probably not escaped anyone's notice that British tennis has been enduring a little bit of a slump in the past five or six decades. But things are looking up! Heather Watson and Laura Robson both appear to have the genuine potential to be challengers in the ladies' game - especially given the fact that it is currently moving into a bit of a talent vacuum caused by the semi-retirement of the Williams sisters. Watson is now in the second round, having beaten a well-respected and higher-ranked opponent in her first match and Robson took the 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone all the way this afternoon. Better still, like Henman and Rusedski in the 1990s, there's the potential there for both Watson and Robson to spur one another on to greater heights.

On the male side, there's still no-one to supersede Andy Murray, whose Wimbledon starts later this afternoon against Russia's former world number 3 Nikolay Davidenko. Andy Murray hasn't needed internal British competition to reach the heights he has, which is pretty lucky when you think about it.

Luck isn't the foremost weapon in Murray's arsenal, however. A player of his standard in most generations would already have won Grand Slam tournaments. But along with some of his very talented contemporaries - particularly Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Robin Soderling and Juan Martin Del Potro - he has come along at the wrong time, rather. It's rare that a player of the standard of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic should come along at all, but of course here they are, all three of them at once. It's a treat for the spectators, but less so for the rest of the top 10 players. If Federer, Djokovic and Nadal bought themselves a VW camper van and a great dane to establish their own private detective agency tomorrow, then Andy Murray would be the overwhelming favourite for this tournament. Until that day comes, however, it's hard to see how he can get past the semi-final, no matter how well he plays.

This is the sort of thing that's got to bum you out, however pleased it makes your bank manager. But Andy Murray will always have the option to console himself with the thought that there are few players in the history of the game who have done what he has, and even fewer who have done it without eventually winning a Grand Slam singles title. So although he is seemingly doomed for the forseeable future to match Tim Henman's record of a yearly whirlwind of hair loss heart attack tennis to the semis, Andy Murray is a very different proposition.

I'm not sure I like it. It's probably just the fear of the unknown: a genuinely competent top line British tennis player? but I don't know... there was something so unmistakably British about Tiger Tim. Plucky. Upright. Sportsmanlike. Reserved. Ultimately doomed. I find Murray's more Latin temperament much more difficult to get behind or even to love. But also, there's the aspect that Murray winning Wimbledon would only be a big deal from the point of view of history and numbers. It wouldn't represent any great overachievement on Andy's part, merely the fulfilment of his very obvious potential. Suspiciously continental behaviour, that.

If Tim Henman had ever won Wimbledon, he would have gone far and beyond his own skill. It would have been a film plot, miraculous, a phenomenon in mass telekinesis. There would have been a national holiday and street parties. That magnificent bastard.

There's no doubting that Andy Murray is the greatest British tennis player in over 70 years. But it will always be Henman Hill.

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