As finals go, it wasn’t brilliant. But maybe that was for the best. As the commentators kept reminding us, yesterday’s match was all about ending ‘77 years of pain’. Had it been anything like as close as predicted, the pain involved in causing the pain to end might have been too much for Tim Henman, Sue Barker et al to bear. As it was, the only moment of overt tension came at the end of the third set, when Murray, serving for the match at 5-4, got to 40-0 before Djokovic pulled him back to deuce, and then had a chance to break. Had Murray lost that game, who knows what might have happened? But that particular avenue of heartbreak was avoided. To the conspicuous delight of David Cameron (front row of the Royal Box), Alex Salmond (second) and a pair of Hollywood actors who kept their jackets on throughout despite the heat, Murray won.
How much does ‘the country’ really care? At the club where I play in South London, Murray supporters were evenly split with those who wanted him to lose. I wanted him to win, but mostly to stop people banging on about Fred Perry. I don’t dislike Murray. I admire the dedication with which he has turned himself into a world beater, and I appreciate his diffidence in the face of patriotic expectations. One of the nice things about tennis is that it’s an individual sport. Players don’t represent their countries (except in the Olympics and the Davis Cup), they represent themselves.
Another problem with Murray mania is that it sucks up so much attention. Wimbledon 2013 will forever be associated with his victory, but it was one of the least remarkable things about the tournament. He is the second best player in the world. It isn’t such a big deal that he won. Had Jerzy Janowicz beaten him in the semi-final (as, at one point, looked distinctly possible) and then dusted up Djokovic in the final, now that would have been a story. As it was, the men’s final was contested, yet again, by two of the big four. (The other two, Nadal and Federer, went out early.) Murray and Djokovic have now faced each other in three of the last four grand slam finals. It’s all getting a bit predictable. And theirs will never be a great rivalry, like Federer and Nadal’s: their styles are too alike.
The women’s competition this year was much more interesting than the men’s. After Sharapova, Azarenka and Williams all fell away, the draw was wide open. The best thing about the final between Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki (who defeated Williams in the fourth round) was how very different they are. I had tickets for the women’s quarter-finals, and saw them both. Lisicki is a natural crowd-pleaser, with an all-out attacking game that can veer between amazing and terrible in the course of a few points. Bartoli is robotically consistent, and a natural crowd-irritator: above all because of her habit of turning her back on her opponent to practise one of her double-fisted groundstrokes, not just after every point, but between their first and second serves. (You have to see this live to appreciate how truly weird and annoying it is.)
In the quarter-finals, Bartoli was up against Sloane Stephens. With Stephens serving to save the first set, and the score at deuce, a few spots of rain appeared. Bartoli harangued the umpire to halt play, and all but walked off the court. The rain got heavier, and play was suspended. When it resumed two and a half hours later, Stephens lost the next two points, and never got back in the match. None of this endeared Bartoli to the crowd. Still, she clearly doesn’t care about that. And in the final, sure enough, her resilience proved too much for a visibly overawed Lisicki.