Think of the pressure heaped on the shoulders of that lonely Briton at the All England Club on Friday, as he strode away, deep in thought, from Centre Court after an afternoon of sun-drenched triumph. I refer not, of course, to Andy Murray, who could always distract himself with a few hours of Playstation, or by playing a practical joke on Ivan Lendl. I refer instead to Murray’s most famous narrator, Simon Barnes of the Times of London. History had just been made before his eyes. Would the historian live up to the moment?
When something momentous happens in tennis, pressure shifts from player to writer. You want to do it justice, so you rack your brains a little harder to find the poetry. If you’re the lead sports columnist for the Times, you also know that for thousands of people, part of the pleasure of Murray’s win yesterday was thinking, once the immediate excitement was over, “I wonder what Simon Barnes is going to say about this.”
Here’s what Barnes came up with on a big day for British tennis. His opening words were on the front page of the Times:
“A nation unites in disbelief; for the impossible has taken place before our eyes. Nothing so humdrum as Elvis playing at the Dog and Fox in Wimbledon Village or a flight of Gloucester Old Spots over the Wimbledon Common: there is a Brit in the Wimbledon singles final, first time a man has been there since 1938 and Bunny Austin.
The player following in Bunny’s pawprints is Andy Murray, who won his semifinal yesterday with a measure of brilliance, the traditional moment of attempted sporting suicide, the usual national angst, and finally such old-fashioned things as determination and belief and seriously bloody good tennis.”
Not too shabby for what must have been a fast deadline, even if I don’t know what Gloucester Old Spots are, and I'm not exactly sure who was attempting suicide or suffering angst in the second paragraph. I like the reference to Austin, because it makes me realize that the U.K. will no longer have to be reminded each year that it once called one of its best tennis players Bunny.
As you might expect, Andy-mania runs rampant through the London papers today. By "Andy-mania," of course, I mean the widely held belief in Great Britain that their man has no chance.
You knew the Sun would come up with something speical for the occasion, something riotously over the top. Yes, they certainly outdid themselves this time:
MURRAY INTO WIMBLEDON FINAL
See what I told you, naturally they would exaggerate the...wait, what? That’s the headline? What happened to the Ruthless Bravehearted Gladiator from the North? This is how you celebrate after 74 years? “Murray into Wimbledon final”? I know they say never get too high or too low about anything, but...
The Sun does achieve a modest share of redemption with a second headline, for a piece about Murray’s chances against Roger Federer:
ANDY: I’M NOT ROGER’S RABBIT
With Friends Like These
Is it just me, or is the Mail just a little bit more in awe of Murray’s opponent than they are of the local boy:
MAGNIFICENT FEDERER STILL THE MASTER AS SWISS ACE CHASES SAMPRAS RECORD
If Federer wins a seventh Wimbledon title, equalling the record of Pete Sampras, he will return to the top of the rankings. It would be a remarkable achievement
And for the Murray headline?
PAY ATTENTION AND GIVE RESPECT TO THE MAN FROM NOWHERE
“Do you know the most wonderful thing about Andy Murray?” Martin Samuel of the Mail asks. “He’s Scottish. Now a lot of people don’t agree with that. They think Murray’s monotone brogue, his roots, his loyalties, are absolutely the worst of him. They do not understand, and they will never understand, that it is precisely Murray’s otherness, his uniqueness, his outsider status, that has taken him to where he will be on Sunday."
That’s the, Er, Spirit
The Telegraph reports from the Wimbledon queue, where fans have been lining up since yesterday to snag an 8-pound grounds pass (the 5000-pound Centre Court tickets were apparently a tad steep). These fans appear to be a dedicated lot, if not an especially optimistic one.
“I came here straight from work yesterday,” said Sarah Locke, 28. “It’s such a great atmosphere, everyone here is so lovely. I don’t think Murray will win, but I don’t think he’ll go out in straight sets.”
—Elsewhere in the Telegraph, writer Rod Gilmour extracts two lessons for Murray from his two straight-set losses to Federer in Slam finals.
From the 2008 U.S. Open: “You can play well throughout a tournament, but the level of pressure and intensity takes a big hike when a Grand Slam title is at stake.”
From the 2010 Australian Open: “You can’t afford to let a lead slip [Murray was up 5-2 in the third set] against a talent like Federer, because he won’t give you a second chance.”
The obvious message for Murray: After you've lost the first two sets, Andy, if you get a lead in the third, do your best to keep it.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs
The British press will stop at nothing. The fact was proven yet again yesterday, when an exhausted Murray staggered into the press room and was greeted with this hard-hitting query:
Q: What is the contribution of Maggie and Rusty to this quest now for the championship?
Who are Maggie and Rusty, you ask? Murray’s parents, or his coaches, or his trainers? No. These are the names of his dogs.
Murray, to his credit, instead of asking, "I make the Wimbledon final and this is what I'm talking about?" tried to come up with an answer. He really must have been in a good mood.
“I don’t think they necessarily influence the match that we’ll play on Sunday,” he concluded.
Roger’s Biggest Fan
That would be Oxfam, a British charity that will collect 102,000 pounds if Federer wins tomorrow. Why? In 2003, a man named Nick Newlife bet that Federer, after he won his first Wimbledon that year, would go on to win at least six more. Bookmakers William Hill offered Newlife 66/1 odds. Newlife died in 2009, leaving his estate, the wager included, to Oxfam.
Shortsighted, it seems, of William Hill. So how do the bookies see tomorrow’s final?
13/8 for Murray; 8/15 for Federer.
Is there anyone who thinks their boy can win?
Let me finish by asking the same question. Does Murray have a chance? Yes. He has a winning career record against Federer, 8-7, he's serving as well as he ever has, he's coming off two excellent wins, and he says the crowds have been helping him. Still, in the last 24 hours I’ve tried to envision him winning three sets from Fed tomorrow, and I can’t do it.
Maybe it’s Muzz's performances in his other three Slam finals. We were supposed to see a new, more mature Murray in those matches, but each time he froze instead. Maybe it’s the fact that, while he is a round farther than he’s ever been here, and his wins over Ferrer and Tsonga were impressive and resourceful, he hasn’t really done anything new. They were still wins over Tsonga and Ferrer, not Djokovic or Nadal.
Maybe it’s because I don’t see Federer being particularly tight or nervous tomorrow; I'm sure he’ll savor being part of this moment, and obviously be motivated not to squander his best chance at a Slam, and the No. 1 ranking, in two years. Maybe it’s because, despite their overall head to head, Federer is 2-0 against Andy at majors, and hasn’t dropped a set in either of those matches. Maybe it’s because, as calm and tough as Murray looked in his semifinal, Federer looked calmer and tougher, against a better opponent, in his.
Maybe I see Federer winning because he is, still, Roger Federer. You just can't change some people, can you?
Federer in three.