It’s a rare occasion when a match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic is the warm-up act in a semifinal bill. But it wasn’t going to be any other way today, with Andy Murray playing in the afternoon's other match, against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tennis days don’t get much bigger, at Wimbledon, in the U.K., or anywhere else.
I wondered yesterday whether the tabs had gone a little soft recently, especially the Murdoch-owned Sun. I think I may have been on to something. Today the Telegraph refers to a tabloid headline from 2002, the year that Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi both went out of Wimbledon early, leaving Tim Henman in a similar situation to what Murray has faced since Rafael Nadal was upset last week.
Here's an example of what Our Tim heard from the tabs back then:
NO PRESSURE TIMBO, BUT CHOKE NOW AND WE’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU
“Making Them Differently”
That’s what Simon Briggs of the Telegraph—not to be confused with Simon Barnes of the Times—says about the French in general, and about Jo-Wiflried Tsonga in particular.
“While Tsonga might not play an instrument,” Briggs writes, comparing Jo to his countryman Yannick Noah, “he is an equally unique figure in the locker room. In a world where top players go to great lengths to maintain their game face, he wanders as happily and dreamily as Basil Fotherington-Thomas from the 'Molesworth' books: “Hello clouds, hello sky!"
This is not a criticism. In fact, that aspect of his character is refreshing. You would be surprised how many players have fallen out of love with the sport since it became their sole means of income.”
I’ll have to take Briggs’ word for it on the Molesworth observation. But it’s interesting how quickly the perception of a player’s attitude and demeanor can change when his results change. Tsonga has been beaten up over the years for being too loose, and thus too changeable and erratic; now his joie de vivre is helping him hold up under the pressure.
Both observations have their grains of truth. On the one hand, being happy and loose would seem, at least theoretically, to be incompatible with a killer instinct. On the other, being happy and loose would seem, at least theoretically, to keep you from getting too anxious. All of which makes me think that, in this tennis version of chicken versus egg, it’s execution that comes first, then demeanor, not the other way around.
Loyalty to a Fault?
The Telegraph canvasses journalists from Croatia, Argentina, Brazil, Holland, the U.S., Germany, Italy, and France for their picks in the Murray-Tsonga match.
WORLD’S PRESS BACK ANDY MURRAY TO BEAT JO-WILFRIED TSONGA, EXCEPT BRAZIL (AND FRANCE, OBVIOUSLY)
The Brazilian, Renan Justi of Tennis View, doesn’t pull any punches. He gives two reasons for his choice: (1) “Tsonga will come through because he is better prepared”; and (2) "British sportsmen do not win when it comes to the final matches.”
That’s some cold logic.
The Frenchman, Julien Laurens of the Le Parisien, has no doubts at all about his pick. It's faintly ridiculous to even ask:
“Of course I’m backing Tsonga,” he snaps.
Be Careful Who Your Idols Are
ANDY MURRAY: I’M LIKE A BOXER
Andy Murray has compared himself to notorious boxer Floyd Mayweather ahead of his Wimbledon semifinal
“I like talking to other athletes,” Murray says in the Telegraph, “especially individual athletes, because the mindset is similar to that of a tennis player. I know quite a few boxers and I’ve spoken to them at length.”
Still, as the paper notes, there are limits to those similarities. Mayweather is currently in jail.
Story Time with Ivan
Lendl and Murray, in the words of the Telegraph, “have struck up a quasi-paternal relationship, meeting the evening before each match to run through their tactical approach for the next day.”
Or, as the Independent puts it:
IVAN LENDL’S BED-TIME STORIES FUEL ANDY MURRAY’S DREAM
Lullabies from Lendl. That’s an interesting concept. I think I know how the first one began:
“A rude little boy named John McEnroe was standing helplessly at the net, so a little boy named Ivan Lendl—who some people said was very mean, but who was really just doing his job—lined up his forehand and . . .”
One interesting tidbit about how Lendl has changed Murray’s preparation:
“I hit a lot less serves than I used to,” Murray said yesterday. “Ivan thinks you need to rest your shoulder and make sure it’s loose, not tired, because over the course of two weeks you hit thousands of serves. That may be a reason why I am serving well deeper into the tournament.”
Ratcheting Up the Pressure
That’s what the Mail does today, with articles quoting two former players, each of whom believes that Murray can do it this time:
IT’S IN YOUR HANDS, ANDY! HENMAN TIPS MURRAY TO LAY GHOSTS OF DISTANT PAST AGAINST TSONGA
Laying ghosts of distant past. Can’t say that sounds easy.
“He is a better player than I ever was,” Henman says of Murray, “better equipped to go further. He is ready. Given the intensity of his last match and the way he stuck in there, it was his best performance at Wimbledon.”
Wow, that just sounded like a massive jinx, didn't it?
Asked if he had offered Murray any advice, Henman says they’ve spoken, but “the last thing he needs is another opinion.”
Now he tells us.
—The other expert in Murray’s corner, not surprisIngly, is his former coach, Brad Gilbert.
WILLY’S WONKY BACKHAND IS A MURRAY BONUS
“Jo-Wilfried Tsonga loves to feast,” BG writes, sounding distinctly like BG, “on what I call tennis’ Surf and Turf menu—he loves to bang in a big serve and follow it up with a big forehand to either eat up the point or dominate the rally.
The one-two combination is what Murray has to defend against, but the good news for British tennis fans is that he seems more than up to the task in my eyes.”
Think of the Pressure On Us, Andy
This the plea of Simon Barnes in the Times, speaking for a nation turning its lonely eyes to a man named Muzz.
“Has Murray ever considered how tough it is, willing him to win?” Barnes asks. “Has he paused to calculate the amount of psychic energy that goes into the national attempt to will one of his flakier attempts at a drop shot over the net?”
“It’s worse this year,” Barnes concludes gloomily, “because winning is not something that could happen on a good day, it’s something that should happen on a normal day. A classic Wimbledon shock took Nadal out, so instead of a Spanish deity, Murray is faced with a French fruitcake.”
In other words: NO PRESSURE ANDY, BUT CHOKE NOW AND WE’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU