It wasn’t that long ago when the most exciting event in any British tennis fan’s life was whether Jeremy Bates would make the second week of Wimbledon. If he did, cue weekend raptures and much use of a British bulldog holding a Maxply and encased in the Union Jack (copyright all cartoonists). And that was pretty much that. Then came Tim Henman, and the excitement was almost too much. Here was a player who made six, yes six, Grand Slam semi-finals. Years of excitement, almost unbearable tension, and eventual disappointment ensued.
Now we have the era of Andy Murray, six Grand Slam finals (two victories), and 16 Grand Slam semis, plus one Olympic gold medal. A superb record in anybody’s book. But how is the old boy treated? ‘You choker, Andy’; ‘Murray meltdown’; ‘He needs more’, ‘Save the wail, Andy’ … and so on. For pity’s sake, we should be cherishing one of the greatest British sports stars ever.
What had happened was that Novak Djokovic had pulled No. 37 in his gamesmanship playbook — in this case, fall to the ground and writhe around for a bit clutching some part of his body: the back, the thigh, or, in Melbourne, the thumb — and wait to see what happens. Murray himself is not above this sort of shenanigans — a limp here, an anxious rub of the back there — but at the Australian Open may or may not have allowed himself to be disturbed by Djoko’s tooling around. Much more likely, he was simply swept away by one of the game’s greatest ever players.
The major discovery at the Aussie Open was the emergence of Murray’s girlfriend Kim Sears as World No. 1 Wag. Her expletive-garnished remark to her neighbour about Murray’s opponent Tomas Berdych — ‘Fucking have that, you flash Czech fuck’ — was one of the quotes of the century. Kim, who always just seemed to be about terrific hair, pashminas and nice bags, is clearly a major player.
Kim unmuzzled is a fabulous secret weapon and she should be encouraged to attend all England fixtures in her capacity as official ambassador without etiquette. England’s opening Six Nations fixture against Wales might have been the perfect opportunity to give Warren Gatland a piece of her mind: ‘Fucking have that, you fat little Kiwi fuck.’ Or a return to Melbourne for the opening fixture of the cricket World Cup and take on Mitchell Johnson: ‘Fucking have that, you tattooed Aussie mincing fuck.’ With or without Kim Sears, Cardiff on a Friday night is no place for the faint of heart — and that’s when there’s no rugby match at the Millennium Stadium. On nights like that the city centre is more like the end of days. This is not just about Wales and England in the Six Nations —it’s a rehearsal for their group match in the World Cup in September. If Wales can’t beat the England ‘B’ team in Cardiff with the roof closed and 80,000 Welshmen going mental, then when can they? And of course that still won’t mean that Toulon’s Steffon Armitage, the best back row forward in the world, will be recalled by England. All one can hope is that a World Cup is enough of a ‘special circumstance’ to make RFU guidelines on players working abroad breachable. But I have my doubts.
Scholars of sports people’s relations with the media will have found much to admire in the imposing figure of the Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. At the Superbowl media day he answered all his questions in the same way, 29 times: ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined.’ He’s a substantial unit, Marshawn, and he can do 40 yards in just over four secs, so not a man to argue with. A tip there for Jose Mourinho, surely.
Roger Alton is executive editor of the Times.