Keeping Tabs: June 18

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

LONDON—We’re near the start, I believe, of what's known as the Season here. Races, regattas, tennis, golf: There’s something each week to go with your Pimm’s. Among tennis fans and writers, it’s also the start of another familiar season. You might call it the build-up to Wimbledon, but I think of it as the time of year when I start to see headlines like this one, from Monday in London's Daily Mirror:

ANDY MURRAY IS AN EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL

That’s a new one, as far as I can tell, when it comes to hyping Murray’s chances at Wimbledon. Though it does seem like a logical tabloid conclusion—”Muzz was really Bat Boy all along!” 

Yet the Mirror has a rationale: It was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, apparently, who called him the E.T. of the tennis world. But what did Jo really say? That Muzz is playing “out of this world”? No, on further inspection of the article, it seems that Tsonga said what they said he said, and more:

“He is the best returner in the world, along with Novak Djokovic,” Jo said of Murray. “The two of them, they are extra-terrestrials. They make you feel like the court is smaller.”

Tsonga went on to make the interesting point that Djokovic and Murray are those rare players who can get in your heads with their returning skills alone.

“Against certain players, I get the feeling the box grows bigger. The more I serve, the less they know where I am going to serve. Against [Murray and Djokovic], it’s the opposite. The longer the match goes on, the more you feel they know where you are going to serve. You get the feeling that the box is a lot smaller, and that sometimes makes you force things and miss the first service. You get the feeling he breaks when he wants to break.”

“It's quite impressive,” Jo concludes. Like something from another planet, even.

*****

The next question on everyone’s mind here, of course, is how Murray will fare against his main rivals. Yet there's some disagreement over who the biggest threat to him really is. Neil Harman of the Times believes it will come from Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, each of whom is in “seismic form.” Based on Harman’s description of Rafa and Nole’s recent clash in Paris, it’s hard to see how poor Andy has any sort of a chance: 

“Their meeting in the semifinals of the French Open just 10 days ago,” Harman writes, “which was all staggering machismo, rallies that tugged at the sinews, drained the lungs and which defined modern-day tennis, is rather too fresh in the memory not to believe that the man who defeats either of them at the All England Club will have either won the cup or gone a very long way to doing so.”

Elsewhere, though, England’s writers haven’t forgotten the man who beat Murray here last year, Roger Federer. The Guardian touts Federer, and his win in Halle this weekend, with a headline that would have been unthinkably, un, humble, a few years ago:

FEDERER HOPES HALLE FORM IS ENOUGH TO MAKE RIVALS THINK

Leave it to the lower-brow Sun, though, to set the coming conflict between Murray and Federer in motion right away. The paper first gives proper respect, if that’s the right world, to Murray’s win at Queen’s with this banner headline:

TEARS ‘N A CROWN: ANDY’S SOB GLORY

This time the tears in Andy Murray’s eyes were those of a champion

Yet just below that article, the Sun sneaks in a smaller, almost subliminal, three-word headline:

FED ON FIRE

I think we can see the central drama that the paper will pushing for the next three weeks.

*****

Murray’s title at Queen’s wasn’t his only winning performance on Sunday. Afterward, he let his guard down during an exhibition for a cancer charity and won over the crowd in an entirely different way. The Daily Telegraph, with its eyes narrowed on the class angle, found this almost as significant as his tournament win, calling it...

THE DAY A SCOT BECAME THE FAVORITE SON AT QUEEN’S

“Suddenly,” Oliver Brown wrote, “we could herald a seminal moment in the humanizing of Andy Murray.”

Along the way to praising the new Muzz, though, Brown can’t help but find a tart new way to describe the old version:

“He transformed in front of our eyes from the surly tartan misanthrope to the model of compassionate benevolence, even blowing a kiss to his confrère Ross Hutchins in the crowd.”

"Transformed from a surly tartan misanthrope": Is this what you'd call a two-handed backhand compliment?

We know the hype will begin as far as Murray’s play is concerned, but we may also be in for another line of speculation about his personality, and whether he can finally “connect” with British tennis fans:

“Murray has been struggling to beguile a dubious British public for the best part of a decade,” Brown writes, “but at last, three Sundays before what could bring his maiden Wimbledon coronation, a connection between actor and audience was forged at Queen’s.”

*****

Put it all together and I think we have an Andy Murray narrative ready to unfold, just in time for the fortnight to begin: 

Can E.T. phone home? 

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