Sunday, July 07, 2013

Andy Murray wins Wimbledon - That I should live to see this day

Today something happened that I genuinely did not believe I would live to see. A British man won the singles title at Wimbledon.

I can remember a time in the late 1960s when Mark Cox and Graham Stilwell could beat a lot of top players on their day. In 1973, when most of the best players were not playing, Roger Taylor got to the semi-finals. And Cox was still around to play doubles in the late 1970s when John Lloyd and Buster Mottram took us to the David Cup final. (Imagine that now!)

But we never really looked like have a men's Wimbledon champion. Lloyd got to the Australian final, but that was in an era when it was still played on grass, intercontinental travel was more daunting and many of the best players did not enter.

Greg Rusedski got to the US final and, with his big left-handed serve, should surely have done better than he did at Wimbledon. But for years Britain's hopes were on the shoulders of Tim Henman.

With his serve-volley game in an era of identikit baseliners, there was something magnificent about Henman. He was like a clean-cut young officer on a white horse riding into the machine guns of the enemy.

No wonder he lost. The truth is that, for a serve-volleyer, Henman did not have a huge serve and was forced to hit numerous volleys to win his points. And that is a difficult skill, however easy he made it look at his best.

But a British men's champion? Never.

We did better in the women's championship - a fact that a lot of this evening's coverage has ignored, whether out of sexism or ignorance.

I am a too young to remember two British women meeting in the final in 1961, though I know that the wrong one (Angela Mortimer) won, defeating the crowd's darling Christine Janes.

But I do remember Ann Jones winning in 1969 and beating the two best players in the world (Margaret Court and Billie Jean King) to do so. With her bustling attitude around the court, there was something of the housewife gone to war about Jones. You felt she had left her husband's supper in the oven or under a tea towel before setting of to play.

And then there was Virginia Wade. You did not support her so much as suffer with her. She was extraordinarily talented, but when things were going will you knew you were only a couple of points away from a crisis. Tim Henman had a little of that quality, but Wade was far more wringing to watch.

I remember 1977 when Virginia Wade won, beating Betty Stove - to whom Sue Barker had somehow contrived to lose in the semi final. I was at school in the lower sixth and saw the final in a classroom with a TV. The room gradually filled with pupils and teachers, none of whom had any right to be there, but no one worried about that as Wade won - after having lost the first set, of course.

So well done Andy Murray. You have triumphed over an awful lot of history.

1 comment:

Jennie Rigg said...


We've done reasonably well in the doubles of all types over the last few years.