Sunday, June 28, 2009

Andy Murray provides a quieter, less mad, steely kind of hope.

It's often said that the Brits love a loser. Maybe that's what explains the fact that they loved Tim Henman and are finding it harder to warm to Andy Murray.

Sure, they like the fact that he's progressing through this years tournament with what looks like ease, but it's almost as if they miss that heart in mouth sense of panic that the Henman years always produced.

Murray provokes in this audience many things, not all good: but one very good one is hope. There's a qualitative difference in mood here from the Henman years: no plethora of flags and teddy bears and misery. No Saltires, even: only, at 6.10, when the Scot finally appeared as clouds seriously began to lour, did the first union flag appear, complete with the odd lettering "Andy - show us your guns!" Instead, this new British hope provokes exactly that: hope. A quieter, less mad, more steely kind of hope. The tennis fans here are in the main sharp and wise and in doubt about the complexity, so far, of their feelings. Lucy, Simon, Lydia, Izzie and Olly compete, between courtesy and giggles and Pimm's, to nail the definitive feeling.

"He's a different kind of player, and actually I do like him, more and more, and it doesn't matter, if you're a tennis fan, whether he smiles or whatever enough," says the first. Simon disagrees. "He's grown up a bit, and he's got a new coach, and learned better PR." A couple of his friends dismiss the last as less important than the tennis, but Simon insists. "If he's a role model to young tennis players he needs to learn the game, to smile, to crack jokes, to be a bit more cool. [Rafael] Nadal does it, he's really cool in Spain and they love him and people get into the game. It's important these days." It might be the preponderance of young PR people here yesterday, but I keep hearing this: image is important today, and he got it wrong, for too long.

"But there's a difference between being 23, more grown, and 18 or whatever when we first heard of him," says Ollie. "Honestly, round here, round this table, whole of this hill I suspect, the Scottishness thing doesn't count. He's British. As we are. And we've got someone to really get behind tonight, and also, you know ... he might just do it. Which is a new feeling!"

That last point is probably much nearer to the truth of the matter. He's Scottish, not English. And, somewhere, deep down, they can't forgive him for that.

He's a far better player than Henman ever was, but yet still they find it very hard to take him to their hearts.

Yesterday he saw off Viktor Troicki with ease, playing a standard of tennis which made it very easy to understand why he is the world's number three, but Wimbledon never seemed anywhere near as hysterical as it did in the days when Henman offered the audience the chance to pin their hopes on the guy who was never going to win.

One audience member summed it all up:
"Tim Henman was warm, cuddly, polite, a good loser. Andy's every Scottish stereotype: dour, hard working. A sore loser. But I promise you, some more wins like tonight, and if he wins Wimbledon, they'll love him. They'll even forget he's Scottish."
Because, of course, one would have to forget that before loving him became even possible.

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