A Chance At Wimbledon
SPORT has not been kind to Britain. No matter how much we sing “It’s coming home,” football prefers it abroad and despite having home advantage every year a male British player has not won Wimbledon in 75 years. Memories turn to Tim Henman’s four semi-final appearances and Rusedski’s one fleeting attempt. British failure at SW19 is as much an institution as strawberries and cream, Pimm’s and white outfits. We’ve become so obsessed with our defeats that we forget that Virginia Wade won the Women’s title in 1977. The British mentality is to focus on the underdog and, right now, that’s the male British tennis ace. The fact that Fred Perry, the last UK champ to win Wimbledon back in 1936, played in an era of wooden racquets and tennis suits speak volumes for how the sport has passed us by. So why as a nation do we expect success when the last time we were even close was before Hitler invaded Poland? Apart from three-time Grand Slam finalist Andy Murray, Britain has only had two male players reach the final of a grand slam, which is not exactly a recipe for success. How can our players know how to win on the biggest stage when their very presence on that stage is a rarity? And is our expectation impeding their progress, rather than ushering it on? Can the hurt ever end? >>
1. Andy Murray is the finest Brit player since Fred Perry
U.S. OPEN final in 2008, the Australian final twice in 2010 and 2011. Semis at Wimbledon and the French. Prize money of $15,908,927. 17 careers titles and a highest ranking of World Number 2. No male British player since Fred Perry has done better and, at the age of 24, John McEnroe thinks his best is still to come: “When Andy Murray first came on the scene three or four years ago you heard people say that he could win majors and he’s putting all that together now.” Murray’s run-up to this Wimbledon is his finest yet. He battled valiantly to reach the semi-finals of the French Open and claimed his second Queen’s Club trophy, prompting Wimbledon’s 2001 winner, Goran Ivanisevic, to say: “Andy is ready to win it. There are no excuses now.”
2. The London Olympics will boost UK tennis
BRITAIN is dominated by team sports – like football, rugby and cricket – leaving individual sports like tennis behind, a problem Tim Henman is keen to rectify: “You have to take the ones who are in the first XI football, the first XV in rugby, the first XI in cricket, and get them playing tennis.” The Olympic Games, which historically celebrates the individual, promises to do just that. The Legacy Action Plan of 2008 promised “to make the UK a world-leading sporting nation”. Couple that with the 2010 Places People Play initiative, which vowed to “bring the inspiration and magic of a home Olympic games into the heart of the local communities, encouraging more people to get involved in sport,” and we could have a revival in British competitiveness. Any planned sports competition for young people will surely get more racquets in hands, and hopefully unearth a few diamonds in the rough.
3. The rise of tennis super stardom
IN JANUARY 2008, a worldwide advertising campaign for Gillette debuted in the UK, starring 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods, France’s all-time leading goal scorer Thierry Henry and, perhaps the greatest of the three, 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer. The more popular a sport gets, the more people play it. Simple as that. And tennis is definitely on the rise. With icons like Greg Rusedski, Tim Henman and Andy Murray, Britain can claim a steady stream of great ambassadors for the sport. Former Head of Performance at the LTA, Jeremy Bates, puts it simply: “There is no magic trick. You need lots of kids, 400 or 500, to push them into the top hundred. Then you can start talking about getting Wimbledon champions.”
4. Don’t forget the girls
YEAR after year we talk about whether a British man can win Wimbledon, but who is to say a female tennis player like Laura Robson can’t come of age and win it? At 17, she has years to get to that level. Jennifer Capriati, former wonderkid and Wimbledon champ, thinks Robson should just “go out and enjoy it” and “savour the moment”. While Virginia Wade reckons the lack of attention on Robson will only help her: “They’re keeping her out of the public eye a little. She hasn’t played quite so much so that should protect her a little bit from burn-out.” Paul Newman, The Independent’s tennis correspondent, believes Robson is not alone: “There is good reason to expect as many as six British women in the firing line [to win Wimbledon].” Elena Baltacha won the AEGON 2011 Nottingham Challenge, her highest ranked tournament yet, and Heather Watson has crept into the top 100. The future is brighter than we think.
5. Someone could do a Ward
JUST think what Andy Murray could achieve with the sort of luck James Ward received during his run to the semi-finals of Queen’s this year. Ward, World Number 192, beat defending champion Sam Querrey and faced off against
Nadal-slayer Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the last four. With Ward showing the Brits how it is done, it isn’t against all probability that a more talented Brit might get the same luck in the big one. Andy Murray reckons he needs to plays his “best-ever tennis” to ever win Wimbledon, a feat that doesn’t come easily: “It’s so difficult to do – and that’s why no Brit’s done it for so long.” But what if Nadal gets injured, as he was in 2010? What if Fed gets too old? With the belief and a little bit of luck, anything is possible, a sentiment Murray shares: “I’m going to Wimbledon with the feeling that I can win the tournament.” Good lad.
1. Andy Murray is only the fourth best in the world
THE best Murray can hope for is the semi-finals. Jim White, of The Telegraph, described the Wimbledon semis as “a glass ceiling with the names Nadal and Roger Federer engraved on it.” Bjorn Borg described the current top four as “the golden generation”– so to win Wimbledon, Murray will have to beat a higher ranked player in two consecutive matches, players who are regarded as some of the finest ever. Unlikely. Murray has a losing record against both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, 4-10 and 3-6 respectively. Even though he has an 8-6 lead over Roger Federer, he has still lost two Grand Slam finals to the legend. As Boris Becker points out, the situation is even worse than that: “[Australia 2011] was his third Grand Slam final and he has never won a set.”
2. Britain has never been a force in tennis
TO THINK that we have a divine right to win Wimbledon is as misguided as to believe we will automatically win the World Cup. Since World War II and the Open Era in 1968, no British man has won the singles event of any Grand Slam and the women have faired only a little better with three. Coach Nick Bolletieri, who founded the world’s first tennis academy in Florida in 1978, believes the “solace for Britain” is that we’ve, “never been great anyway. That’s a fact, not a criticism.” Between 1978 and Federer’s first Wimbledon win, in 2003, just two countries – the United States and Sweden – won half of all the men’s singles Slam titles. And let’s not forget in 2010, the first time in Wimbledon’s 134-year history, only one Briton reached the second-round. With such a historical lack of talent, it’s unfair to expect a winner any time soon without a radical change in our national training facility.
3. The Lawn Tennis Association is a shambles
IF YOU listen hard enough, you’ll always hear a member of the British tennis establishment criticising the LTA. Tennis pundit John Lloyd said the LTA has “failed miserably over the past 25 to 30 years”, and described it as “the biggest scandal in British sports”. Lloyd thinks the LTA has produced zero top quality players. There’s an obvious trend backing Lloyd, as Judy Murray sent Andy to train at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona after the way LTA treated his older brother Jamie. Our best Brit is Spanish groomed. Meanwhile, Simon Broady – father of the Liam who won the Wimbledon Boys’ Doubles tournament in 2010 – pulled both his children from the LTA system due to the “hostility” they received. Britain has only one-seventh of France’s indoor courts and Bolletieri suggests “a British academy in Spain? Clearly, something is terribly wrong.”
4. China is coming…
OVER 166 million Chinese watched Li Na win the French Open in 2011. That’s nearly three times the population of Britain. The following day, the People’s Daily, a Beijing-based political magazine, broke tradition and featured Li Na’s face on their front-page. Alexandra Willis wrote in The Independent that “by such signals does the world come to understand that China, at the highest levels, is starting to learn to love tennis.” China now has a singles Grand Slam winner to go with their Doubles wins at Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2006. And let’s not forget the 2004 Olympic Gold for their Doubles team. They already outstrip us, and this is before the boom has even begun. As Li Na herself says, inspiration is the progenitor for success: “Now the children have more confidence to play professional tennis.” According to the China Tennis Association, the amount of registered players is growing by 15% a year. That’s only going to get bigger now.
5. We are a nation of bottlers
ON JUNE 19, 2011, England’s Under-21 Football side lost to the Czech Republic after being 1-0 up with 3 minutes to go. We’re a nation of sporting failures, a group of self-pitying nearly-men who think we deserve better. Yet, historically, our football sides have been incredibly consistent at failing to win anything. Tennis is no different – we are always so close and yet so far. As Boris Becker pointed out, Murray has yet to win a set in three Grand Slam finals. Perhaps that’s because we have no real tradition of winners. Becker, a six-time winner, thinks that “to win a Grand Slam or get to number one in the world, you need someone in your corner who has done it before.” Britain’s bench is regrettably thin.
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