Andy murray

Why 2021 could be sport’s greatest year yet

The best thing about sport in 2020 was that any happened at all. And how good much of it was. The worst thing was that hardly anyone got to see it live. Trophies being lifted was a triumph. Trophies being lifted in front of rows and rows of empty seats was just tragic. Let’s replay the year again. This time, though, we transpose the front and back pages of our newspapers. What a year it would have been if we had awoken each day to stories about the excellence of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool; the continual brilliance of Lewis Hamilton; the coronation of the Gypsy King Tyson Fury and his admirable

Roger Alton’s highlights from a magical year in sport

We don’t half take a lot for granted. We may look up to the Aussies, kowtow to the Americans and look on in awe at the Chinese, but we’re not doing too badly ourselves. To judge from the papers, we’re a nation of fatties who when not pigging out on Pringles on the sofa are waddling down the high street looking for drugs. But it turns out we’re pretty good at sport: cricket World Cup winners, rugby World Cup finalists, women’s football World Cup semi-finalists. It was English teams who contested the Champions League final, after two mesmerising semis when Liverpool thumped Barcelona and Spurs defeated Ajax in the last

Darkness looms as distracted ministers fail to address the widening energy gap

Transfixed as you were by Westminster chaos, did you also spot the news that Hitachi is about to cancel or suspend construction of the Wylfa nuclear power station in North Wales? The Japanese engineering giant has evidently failed to reach agreement on a guaranteed electricity price and terms for a UK government stake in the project; its decision follows that of its compatriot Toshiba, which in November pulled out of building a nuclear station at Moorside in Cumbria, largely because it disliked the Treasury’s favoured financing model that loads risk on to the contractor. These two projects between them were intended to keep the lights on in 11 million UK

Barometer | 17 January 2019

Turkey and the deep state Boris Johnson said that if Brexit was blocked, the public would blame it on the ‘deep state’. The expression comes from the Turkish Derin Devlet — coined to express the conspiracy of military, police, intelligence bodies and even organised criminals which many Turks believed were operating against their democratically elected government. It made its way into the English language in the 1990s when Kurdish separatists were threatening to declare independence. While there is little doubt that police and the military were involved in the underhand suppression of Kurdish insurgents, their efforts did not support the existence of a well-organised secret government. Rather the various agencies

Tennis is the real loser at Wimbledon this year

Twice in the first few days of this year’s Wimbledon, I have been left mystified by the optimism of the BBC’s punditry team. I have heard both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer referred to as being “in the best form” of their careers, and the odds reflect what is considered to be an open title race. For this year’s Championships curtain-raiser, we had the dubious privilege of watching 30-year-old Andy Murray dismantle 20-year-old Sasha Bublik, who hit 12 double faults and looked half the player that Murray did at 20, despite being considered a hot prospect by the ATP. It was a neat metaphor for how this season is unfolding:

Andy’s ace

Who will you cheer for if Andy Murray meets Roger Federer at Wimbledon? It’s not a straightforward question, at least not for the English. The loveliness of Rodge and the awkwardness of Andy — however British — makes for a difficult and revealing choice. Different if you happen to be Scottish. I remember a conversation in the gents at Melbourne in 2010. Two Scots, companionably pissing side by side, were loudly discussing the final of the Australian Open just completed. An Englishwoman alongside them in the stands had been cheering Federer, the straight-sets winner, rather than Murray. ‘She was everything I was brought up to hate.’ But Murray was never

Pakistan and the power of redemption

The Pakistan supporter was festooned in cream and green, and carried a chalkboard round his neck with the legend: ‘My wives think I’m at the mosque.’ By the end of the day he was a very happy man, along with millions of others both here and on the subcontinent. Pakistan’s astounding victory in cricket’s Champions Trophy was redemption on an epic scale, both for the team and its most lethal player. In a field of eight they qualified in last place. Shortly after just making the cut in 2015 they lost to Zimbabwe: had that defeat come a few days earlier it would have been West Indies rather than Pakistan

Honours have become a debased currency

Lynn Faulds Wood, former presenter of BBC’s Watchdog, says she turned down an MBE because she ‘just wouldn’t accept it while we still have party donors donating huge amounts of money and getting an honour’. Any self-respecting political donor will equally have rejected an honour on the grounds that it demeans the system to have them handed out to every Tom, Dick and Harry who appears on radio and television. Honours have become a debased currency. This time around, 1197 of them have been handed out. There will be another pile in the summer with the Queen’s birthday honours. Carry on like this and there won’t be anyone on the

In defence of John Inverdale

I love Clare Balding. In line with just about everyone else, I think she is a class act. And having known her since university days, I can vouch for the fact that not only is she a very nice person, but also – rather marvellously – completely unaffected by her very well-deserved status as a national star. But she landed John Inverdale in it on the last day of the Olympic Games, after he had already come in for a large amount of totally unwarranted stick. He was criticised for apparently ignoring people he is interviewing, because he does what all broadcast interviewers do in such situations and kept his eyes open

The pain of being second-best

The boys at Radio 5, bless ’em, are now including the EU referendum as part of their sports trailers. As in: ‘The European Championships; England versus Sri Lanka; Wimbledon; the EU Referendum; the Rio Olympics… don’t miss a second of this glorious summer of sport on BBC 5 Live.’ Nevertheless, the normally excitable world of sport has remained strangely immune to the dramas of the Brexit debate, though Sir Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham has put his considerable bulk behind the ‘outers’. Not surprising really. It was once said that cricket has the only trade union where the workers are to the right of the employers. But keen Brexiteers should note that Serbia

Don’t cry for John Terry

Just when you were thinking that the Premier League had become a much nicer place without José Mourinho in it, here comes another old friend from Stamford Bridge who can be relied on to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, it’s John Terry again, JT, Captain, Leader, Legend, who issued a tear-stained farewell saying Chelsea didn’t want him any more (sob), it couldn’t be a fairytale ending (sob), and he wasn’t going to retire at Chelsea (hysterical weeping). But so loyal was he that he couldn’t possibly be going to another Premier League club (stately music and solemn applause). Oh please, what a load of tosh. This was Terry, in his inimitable

From the dismal to the delightful: the year in sport

So long, then, to another thrilling year of sport in which the full range of human possibility — from the dismal frailties of the recidivists who run world football to the brazen brilliance of Japan’s rugby players — made for an intoxicating mix. It began and ended with two epic highs. Back in January, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite, the most difficult route in rock climbing, taking 19 days in all. A truly awesome achievement. Most of us could barely get off the ground; Yosemite is 3,000 ft high. Then, almost at year’s end, another high: the only people who

The Davis Cup will be one final flourish for Andy’s Barmy Army

There’s nothing quite like a sporting celebration, but the lash-up after Britain’s (almost) inevitable victory in the Davis Cup tennis final against Belgium this weekend should be unique. For a start, there will be hardly anyone there: just Judy Murray and Andy, with Jamie popping his head in: ‘Have some Irn-Bru boys, and, take another teacake.’ It’s a funny old team, with -pretty much only one man in the team, but it will be a huge personal triumph for Andy, every bit as special as Wimble-don and the Olympics. What a -triptych! And now David Lloyd is -having a go at him for ‘not giving enough back’ to tennis. Oh

I know who’s going to win the Rugby World Cup. I think

England did have some clear winners in their otherwise beached Rugby World Cup campaign in the unlikely form of Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson and Jack Whitehall, principals in the dazzling Samsung Rugby School TV ads. Superbly funny and brilliantly filmed, the ads take a chipper Whitehall through the finer points of rugby with, among others, Jason Robinson and a bulky, greying but still mighty scary Jason Leonard. You won’t see many things more fabulous than former England star Maggie Alphonsi chucking Whitehall about 20 yards backwards when he tries to tackle her. And Johnners, who knew? Such comic timing. What are we going to do without them? It’s a pity

Give Robshaw a break

Pity poor Chris Robshaw. England’s sturdy captain might have a knockout girlfriend and exceptional skills on the cappuccino machine, but he has taken one hell of a pounding from Her Majesty’s armchair battalion of former players and coaches, much more than he took from Sam Warburton at Twickenham on Saturday. Give the guy a break. His decision to go for a line-out and set up a possible winning try rather than attempt a very difficult penalty kick at goal to draw ‘defied belief’ said one newspaper, the same paper that described a similar decision by the Japan captain Michael Leitch in that miraculous last-gasp victory over South Africa as ‘faultless’.

Australia’s comeback kids

I have never met an Aussie I didn’t like, but, crikey, their sporting indefatigability is exhausting. Don’t they ever give up? In the past few days, they have pulled one out of the bag against the Springboks in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship when they looked buried; trailing 20—17 with time up, they turned down a penalty kick and went for the win with an 82nd-minute try. Their Davis Cup tennis boys came from 2—0 down to beat Kazakhstan, with Lleyton Hewitt hauling his weary muscles through the motions once more. Afterwards Hewitt said, ‘I love the back-against-the-wall situation. This is what dreams are made of.’ Now they face Britain,

Confessions of a Fedhead

Good writing about sport is rare — and good writing about tennis is that much rarer — so it’s conspicuous that we’ve had so much of it about Roger Federer. The gold standard was set in 2006 with David Foster Wallace’s remarkable essay ‘Federer as Religious Experience’, in which the great novelist provided a dazzling analysis of the great player’s game. Then came Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius (2010), an elegant account of the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal. In a letter published in Here and Now (2013), the correspondence between Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee, the latter contributed an uncharacteristically lyrical bit of praise for the

We should be grateful for Andy Murray (and Kim Sears)

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,

Nick Clegg sweats it out on court against Cameron’s crony

On Friday, Mr S boarded the Thames cruiser the Silver Sturgeon to join TV presenter and former tennis pro Andrew Castle in welcoming heavy hitters Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray back to London for the ATP World Finals. But for Castle, it was a less experienced tennis player who was weighing on the former British No.1’s mind. ‘I played a charity match with Nick Clegg last month,’ the presenter, who regularly puts his old chum David Cameron through his paces on court, sighed during the Moët & Chandon Thames river cruise. Although Nick Clegg had previously described the match as ‘great, great fun,’ Castle confided to Steerpike that relations between

The real England team is playing for Stuart Lancaster

A revealing handwritten letter emerged at the weekend from the England scrum half Danny Care, who wasn’t playing in the first Test against New Zealand, to his Harlequins and England colleague Joe Marler, who very much was. And how! ‘Joe, Just wanted to wish you all the best when you step on the battlefield tonight,’ wrote Care. ‘Go hard my friend, I wish I could be out there in the trenches alongside you.’ Say what you like about the military metaphor — and I think it’s bang-on for a match against the All Blacks — that note says as much about Stuart Lancaster’s England as a whole forest of commentary.