Keeping Tabs: Nov. 12

Monday, November 12, 2012 /by

Swiss neutrality: That wasn’t the phrase that came to mind during Roger Federer’s semifinal win over Andy Murray in London yesterday. For much of the match, it looked and sounded as if Zurich and Geneva had banded together to invade England. One reporter in the building estimated that support was split down the middle between Federer and his British opponent. Another had it at 60-40 in favor of the foreigner. Judging by how it sounded on a television in New York, I’m going with the latter. Murray got a roar when he walked on court, but Federer received the lion’s share of them over the course of the night. Whatever the percentages were, it was an intense, dare I say almost Parisian, show of devotion to the Maestro—or King, as they’ve called him in London this week—and a surprising reception for the local boy, who just a few months ago had won gold and silver medals for his country.

The episode inspired some soul-searching, as you might expect, in the London press today. But at least the tabs were gentle with Muzz, their warrior, in his moment of defeat. 
 
The Mail described his loss with thoughtful delicacy:
 
FED EXPRESS TRAMPLES ON MURRAY’S DREAMS AS SWISS STAR SETS UP DJOKOVIC CLASH
 
The Mirror was equally understanding:
 
FED AND BURIED: ANDY MURRAY’S SEASON ENDS IN DEFEAT BY JOLLY ROGER
 
The Guardian’s headline surely made Muzz feel better this morning:
 
ANDY MURRAY BOOED BY HOME CROWD AS CLASSY ROGER FEDERER REACHES FINAL
 
But it’s the Sun that wins the award for subtle concision, with one word that says it all:
 
MUZZLED
 
*****
 
A few editorialists worked up some outrage about the fan response. Mike Dickson’s column in the Mail kicks off with this stern headline:
 
WHY BRITISH FANS SHOULD ALWAYS BACK MURRAY...EVEN AGAINST FEDERER
 
Dickson wonders, “Wasn’t that emotional and generous speech [of Murray’s] after the Wimbledon final meant to have turned us into a nation of Murray converts at long last?”
 
He goes on, rightly, to lament the British public’s continued lack of understanding for Muzz’s quirks. “Seemingly we are prepared to forgive Federer his odd fashion faux-pas and occasional unselfconscious arrogance, but find it harder to look beyond Murray’s less serene demeanor on court to see how true he is to himself away from it.”
 
As for Federer, Dickson notes that the British aren’t his only fans. “In a global survey last year, Roger Federer emerged as the world’s second most trusted and admired human being behind Nelson Mandela.”
 
That’s tough to fight.
 
*****
 
At the Telegraph, Oliver Brown calls it “a truly bizarre end to a breakthrough year,” and speculates that, “Perhaps the Murray personality that so beguiled New Yorkers in September has still not been fully embraced this side of the Atlantic.”?
 
Brown takes a crack at blaming the 02 Arena itself. “While a wonderful amphitheatre for tennis,” he writes, “its ambience remains inescapably corporate.” 
 
The actors who had come out to support Murray, Kevin Spacey and Sir Ian McKellan, “were hard-pressed to make themselves heard above the remorseless Federer clamor," Brown reports.
 
"As the defending champion prepared to serve the match out, you could close your eyes and imagine that London was some strange town called Rogerville, where all paid obeisance to their master’s brilliance. No wonder Murray could not escape this madness fast enough, back to the comforting sight of his two border terriers. From them, if not from his latest audience, he could expect unconditional love.”
 
Despite the vivid prose here, and the funny last line about Muzz’s dogs, I’m not sure I understand how a place being “corporate” would hurt his support. Brown mentions that Murray “beguiled” the fans in New York, but he did that in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the most corporate arena in all of sports.
 
*****
 
ANDY MURRAY’S DIGNIFIED EXIT AMONG THE BOORISH DETRACTORS
 
So goes the headline of Kevin Mitchell’s column in the Guardian. He takes the hecklers to task: 
 
“Small sections of the capacity crowd in the city where [Murray] lives—and not just those enamored of Federer—had behaved poorly. They cheered his minor sins, heckled him mid-serve at one point, whistled and booed when he changed his racquet and generally reserved their love for the Swiss. They are entitled to do that. Federer, by general consensus, is the most popular player of modern times, a graceful genius who inspires unquestioning adoration from people who have never met him and would probably curl up in a dribbling ball of sycophancy if they ever did. You should see how some journalists carry on.
 
“While tennis is as much an individual sport as a vehicle for poorly disguised nationalism, this was boorish, unthinking, child-like behaviour by people with short memories. Murray, nontheless, showed dignity in ignoring it.”
 
Mitchell goes on to say that, “if evidence were needed of Murray’s commitment to delivering great moments for the nation to celebrate, it comes in his plans over the next month or so.”
 
Rather than attend a BBC “hug-fest” known as the Sports Personality of the Year Awards, “In all probability will be doubled over on an athletics track at his training camp in Miami, throwing up, after completing a series of lung-busting 400m runs.”
 
That is certainly a reason to respect the Muzz, but I'm not sure anyone is going to want to see it.
 
*****
 
Sports fans in England, the London columnists believe, “don’t get it” when it comes to Murray. I think they’re right, though I also believe that a certain segment of the game's audience is going to be put off by his on-court demeanor, especially his cursing. The important thing about tennis fans who follow the game closely, though, is that they don’t necessarily root for their countrymen. The sport crosses borders every week, and its fans cross them as well. You could even say that it goes against the grain and culture of the game not to be internationally minded, and tennis on the whole is better because of that. Booing and heckling Murray was excessive and ugly, especially if it was driven by the fact that he's from Scotland rather than England. But no one who has attended a pro match, anywhere, would ever be surprised that Federer was the crowd favorite, even in another player’s hometown—in Madrid, where they root for Rafa, they really like Roger, too. Murray wasn’t just going up against a tennis player yesterday, he was going up against the Federer Phenomenon.
 
But he shouldn't feel too bad. From what I could see, it was a Murray fan who had the best sign of the evening. A Scottish flag was laid out, by some snarky man or woman, with these words across it:
 
SHHH, GOLD MEDALIST AT WORK
 
Of course, no one listened.
 

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