LONDON—It feels like the calm after the storm now, doesn’t it? We went from 16 matches and various forms of madness—upset madness, royal madness, bad-heel madness—to just a few solitary, leisurely quarterfinals each afternoon. But this day, Wednesday, is a great one. We’re past the chaos, but we’re not down to the bare, tension-filled end quite yet. There are four good matches and a variety of storylines and possibilities still lingering. It’s not all about Federer and Nadal yet, in other words.
Let’s see what the papers have to say about it all. This morning I picked up the same stack and put it down in front of the same clerk who has been behind the same counter every single day of my stay. He rifled through them and punched in the prices the same way again. Each day until now, the cost had been 4.90 pounds. Each morning, he and I had said hello and goodbye and not too much more; I wasn’t sure he remembered me from day to day. This time he rang up the price and said: "5 pounds, 20." We looked up at each other. “Something got more expensive,” he said.
Remember the optimism of yesterday on the streets of London? I told you it was reckless, too good to last. Today the papers' Murray mood comes crashing down to earth, and the Telegraph leads the way.
NADAL ALL-CLEAR PILES THE PRESSURE ON MURRAY
The paper not only has Nadal off his death bed, but he has apparently already won his quarterfinal match: “Briton must overcome two Spaniards to reach final.” I guess Mardy Fish can just head home right now.
—Elsewhere, Johnny Mac met up with Wee Mac (Rory McIlroy to you non-golf nuts) and Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Wee Mac asked JMac if he played golf. JMac said, “I get frustrated on a tennis court. Imagine me on a golf course.” Wee Mac had a good laugh at the image. (I’ll also note that McIlroy came across as a cool guy, especially considering the awkward meeting that the BBC set up for the three of them.)
—Now, finally, we get to the real drama, and the Telegraph has reassuring news for us:
JUDY STAYS LOYAL DESPITE LOPEZ CHARM
OK, so Murray’s mother will actually be rooting for her son. The paper says that the “joke got a bit out of hand”—what else was it going to do?—but that Judy had cleared . . . everything . . . up . . .
Or had she? “It’s Andy all the way,” she said. “I’m just one of a lot of Feliciano female fans—I’m in the majority—but of course family loyalty comes into it hugely.”
This isn’t over.
—Tim Henman talks about one of Murray’s smarter moves: Mixing up where he stands to return serve. He thinks Lopez is a good match-up for him because his lefty serve will roll straight into Murray’s biggest strength, his backhand return.
—The Telegraph wraps up with a nasty little number by Jim White guaranteed to annoy WTA fans, and tennis obsessives in general:
EASTERN BLOCK TAKE-OVA IS STRICTLY FOR THE DIEHARDS
The author begins by noting that there was no queue for yesterday’s women’s quarters. “On Monday, Centre Court demonstrated its long-held antipathy to the Williams sisters,” White goes on to say [I’m not personally sure about whether that antipathy is real—ST], “by cheering news of their departure from the tournament . . . [But] without the Williams, women’s tennis sheds its box office and becomes instead a procession of identikit eastern Europeans with their bouncy blonde ponytails, obsessive parental coaches, and double-handed backhands.”
Did any of yesterday’s quarterfinalists fit that bill, exactly?
—Could new technology end up finally giving us the long-awaited scientific proof that statistics are bunk? IBM’s new Pointsream stat tracker is off to a wobbly start, anyway. It estimated that Andy Murray would need to win 37 percent of points off Richard Gasquet’s first serve and 46 percent off his second serve. Murray did neither, but somehow still won in straights.
The Independent tells the tale of lucky, plucky Evan Hoyt, a 16-year-old Brit who lost in the juniors, but did much better on the practice court yesterday. When Rafael Nadal, who hadn’t scheduled a practice before his MRI, needed someone to hit with, Hoyt stepped forward. “He’s my idol,” said Hoyt, who has Nadal’s autograph printed on his racquet bag.
The Mirror has the skinny on the advice that McEnroe gave to Murray yesterday:
"SMILE? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS: Mac says Andy must trash talk rivals"
“Murray needs to get to them,” McEnroe said. “He’s got to find a way to get under their skin. It should be part of his game, instead of saying ‘we are great friends and everything is wonderful.’ When I played Jimmy Connors, clearly we didn’t take a liking to each other and that spurred us on to higher levels.”
Mac might have added: “And did you happen to know that Jimbo and I are playing an exhibition in New York this summer? Good seats still available.”
I was about to say that a second-week lull had taken hold in the papers, just as they had on the courts, when I finally turned the page to Simon Barnes. He delivers right from the first words of his column, entitled:
GLAM ROCK QUEEN OF THE COURTS ALL FIRED UP TO BATTER YOUNG PRETENDERS
“The great thing about Maria Sharapova," Barnes writes, "is that it would not matter a jot if she looked like the back end of the No. 49 bus plying between Crystal Palace and Shepherd’s Bush Green, or whether she looked like Helen of Troy. Either way, she would be out there trying to make tennis balls spontaneously combust . . . she’s a mongrel disguised as a pedigree.”
Sharapova as a bus, a woman who sank a thousand ships, and a dog, all in two paragraphs. Save this one for the high school composition textbooks—"Now this, son, is how you write sports".
In the Mail, Charles Sale reports that McEnroe is such a hit with the BBC that they may try to get him to commentate on other other sports during the Olympics next year.
Meanwhile, his fellow ex-champ Boris Becker is finally, after many years of looking, going to buy a place in Wimbledon. Husbands, keep your eyes peeled . . .
—According to the paper, some fans who did show up for the women’s quarters on Court I yesterday were left less than satisfied after Azarenka-Paszek was moved to Centre Court.
“I paid 65 pounds to watch a rubbish match,” the Mail quoted Suzanne Smith of Winchester as saying, “and then only saw one game of a second match.”
I only quote this because I love the British term “rubbish” so much. It’s never made it over to the States; we’re left with “terrible” or “garbage,” which don't have quite the same negative punch (they're rubbish, in other words).
According to the Sun, Murray is trying his best to take Johnny Mac’s get-tough advice.
MURRAY SAYS BIG FOUR MUST BE MEAN
Alas, meanness just doesn’t come easily to this generation. The Sun tries to help by subliminally slipping the word DISLIKE, in all caps, into the text of their story, right above these vicious words from Murray:
“I know John McEnroe says we need a little more animosity between the top players,” said Murray, who’s a boxing fan, “and it’s probably true. I think everyone would enjoy it a little more if the players were a bit more vocal about any dislike we may have for each other.”
Ah ha, so there is dislike—I knew it. Go on, please.
“But at the same time tennis is in a really good place right now.”
Oh, God, no, please, not that again. OK, sorry, sorry, keep going . . .
“I’ve seen Rafa around pretty much every day, because most of the guys will practice around the same time on their day off, normally around midday . . .”
Um hmm, right, midday, let me just write that down. And your point is?
“But I’m sure the days you don’t play against them you definitely don’t say as much.”
I see. Well, we’ve got a ways to go on the animosity front, but I guess not saying as much to each other is a start.
How do you create a pot-stirring headline out of those words? Not possible, right? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Over a picture of a menacing, bearded, fist-shaking Murray, the Sun has him bellowing, in banner type:
LET’S GET McNASTY!
Follow me on Twitter.