At Wimbledon

William Skidelsky

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.


  • 9 July 2013 at 2:48am
    LorenzoStDuBois says:
    Watching the ESPN broadcast in the US, it is not hyperbole to state that it was all but forgotten that there was another player on the court besides Murray. Over and over, the announcers pumped up the 77 years since a title, that the whole nation was living and dying with Murray's every stroke, and cutting to shots of spectators, Hill-sitters, and pub-goers in goofy attire about as much as the actual match. In a 3 hour match, it got really really old and annoying, and as an American, I felt pretty pretty confident that every man, woman and child in the British Isles was not, actually, going crazy for Murray. Am I wrong?

    I mean, it's a fun fact that this guy was English, and that the tournament takes place in England, and that it's been a while since the last guy, but dwelling on a player's nationality is probably the least interesting way imaginable to follow tennis. I apparently love players from Serbia and Poland, though I have no passionate feelings regarding either country.

    It's part of a broader trend in sports journalism to portray the athlete as Hero, doing battle in the service of his homeland, his adoring fans dramatically cheering his successes, each such story being boiled down to this monotonous formula, rather than an amazing individual drama of endurance, artistry, and strategy.

    • 9 July 2013 at 9:43am
      Alex Drace-Francis says: @ LorenzoStDuBois
      Ahem - doing battle in the service of his homeland, but which homeland? What Harry means below is that he's not English. He's an affable, non-political Scot doing well at an English game, in southern England; as such he functions as a role model for Britishness under threat. His latent ethnicity is tacitly sized up against that of his (equally affable, equally apolitical but nonetheless 'other') Polish and Serbian adversaries, and then sublimated.
      Some commentators made much of Alex Salmond unfurling the Saltire in the Royal Box at the end of the match. But 10 Downing Street actually raised this flag last year when Murray reached the final, showing how keen they are to make room for Scottishness within the British identity.

    • 9 July 2013 at 2:36pm
      LorenzoStDuBois says: @ Alex Drace-Francis
      "...that this guy was English"

      Yup, I'm an American. Sorry for the gaffe!

  • 9 July 2013 at 8:17am
    Harry Stopes says:
    Alex Salmond just died a little inside.

  • 9 July 2013 at 11:13am
    biksra says:
    Some nations have a greater need for titles and the reliving of past glory. After the grand performance by their Olympians, Britons expected more from their main tennis hope in probably their most watched annual sports event.

    For some time now, Murray had the game to tame the best but not the mental toughness. From apologizing for failing the nation last year to his hoping that they had enjoyed his effort, I think a big change has occurred in his head. He may have got to his goal even without Lendl but hardly as quickly.

    Bartoli has the nervous energy of boxers, without all of their insecurities. The word ‘manic’ used for her in a newspaper article captures well her determination as well as the ability to shut out external influences.

  • 10 July 2013 at 10:53pm
    Simon Wood says:
    I have been Facebooked a nice link about Virginia Wade who won in 1977 ending years of agony, in the "Daily Mail" way of speaking.

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