Category Archives: Tennis

Democracy defeats Communism… Again!

A Murray 2

Andy Murray, like Jed Bartlett, is The Real Thing. He didn’t need to prove it, of course, but he did again last night against Stanislas Wawrinka, a four hour five setter which at several points looked like it would be notable for all the wrong reasons.

The Scot is one of my favourite people to watch in sports today, simply because he seems so oblivious to the scene around him. His mood swings, his teenage angst, his concentration span – all these elements, which should be (in order) non-existent, suffused and immaculate – they rage and roil within in him, and the match seems to be as much with his own buoyancy as his opponent.

Last night it was backhand dynamo Wawrenka who fell to his infernal rhythm, a player who looked lethal in the first set and never once gave an inch to the Scot, but for all his brute strength was unable to find an answer to Murray’s odd habit of returning the ball from almost anywhere on the court. Wawrenka’s actually Swiss, despite his very Polish name, but in his Junior French open champion, leaving school at 15, academy-driven progression mirrors that of the post-Soviet invasion. Murray, on the other hand, spent most of his formative tennis years playing against his brother in the roughneck gang town Glasgow, and was at school in Dunblane the day Thomas Hamilton took 17 young lives. Not for him the serenity of Lausanne.

The first set was a nightmare for the new flagbearer of British tennis (Tiger Tim’s commentary box hope that Henman Hill might remain a year before it becomes Mount Murray seemed tragically forlorn) and its perennial search for some light at the end of the tunnel. Murray was slovenly, his game unkempt while Wawrenka had the cool efficacy of the Eastern European contract killer he resembled at times. His serves were perfectly placed pistol shots, while Murray hacked the ball long or wide, and lapsed into his old habit of muttering to himself like a bewildered pensioner, lost, once again, in familiar surroundings.

Wawrenka charged to a 4-0 lead in a matter of minutes, before, it seemed, Murray was even aware a game of tennis was in progress and not a genial warm up. Soon the set was gone, and the faces they panned to in the crowd looked desperately worried. Amongst them were some peculiarly Wimbledon celebrities: Ewan MacGregor received lavish attention from the BBC crews, while Private Eye editor Ian Hislop – looking, as ever, like a new-born baby whose dimensions changed but not his visage – had his arms folded, tense, with belief notably absent.

How could you believe in Andy Murray? Even now, as he begins to slough off the teenage gawkiness, he remains very different to the archetypal men’s tour player. Right now that would be the absent world number one Rafael Nadal, whose biceps have adorned the cover of the New York Times magazine, a physique which verges on the iconic. Murray, on the other hand, is a proportional disaster. His thighs are immense, Herculean, and more akin to those you see on track cycling sprinters like Chris Hoy. His upper body, the parts he uses to hit the ball, remain stubbornly mortal.

In any case, that oddly-proportioned body propelled him out of a deep hole on Monday night, and into the last eight. You could hardly suggest that he looked in great shape, and it is to be hoped that the match doesn’t weigh too heavily on his bones come Wednesday, but for good periods he showed why England Expects.

Because, at times, he played some spectacularly good tennis, and played it almost nonchalantly, without the fierce determination which characterises most of his opponents. Which is not to suggest he wasn’t desperately keen to win – you only had to watch the feral expression on his face as he adopted Lleyton Hewitt’s ‘come on!’-s to ascertain that. But where Hewitt has an entitled air about him when he utters the phrase (and there’s something more than a little rote about the way it’s wheeled out), Murray was genuinely goading himself forward, with a fierceness visible in his countenance I struggled to place, until I recalled the vicious, mythical wolf which Zack Snyder created in his heroically stupid 300.


That beast meets its demise with a spear through its mouth driven by Spartan king Leonidas, but Murray has more than raw aggression in his arsenal. Or rather, in the absence of raw aggression he plays a game which is almost impish, more audacious than ferocious. Which perhaps makes it more idiosyncratic than the power players he comes up against, but when he’s on they look confused, disappointed, even angry, as Wawrenka did last night, under the roof and unnaturally natural light at Wimbledon.

Murray’s victory, over a fine, but not top tier opponent, was ground out. He dropped the first set through inattention, and the fourth because he seemed unable to sustain his momentum. But the way he rose, impassioned and full of blood, to cannon through the final set was breathtaking. I called him the Real Thing for this reason. In a game being overrun by strong, rigid players from former Communist states (or those with similar bloodlines and discipline), who play with a implacable structure, Murray represents the triumph of democracy. His game is strange, willful, and at times he looks lost under the lenses and gazes and the expectations.

But then he snaps upright, makes some incredible shots and flummoxes opponents who had thought they had found a way to beat him. Federer represents a wall; impassive and resolute – he matches an opponent blow for blow until he senses the time is right to destroy them, albeit artfully. Murray has no such control over his will, or how it is imposed. He simply feels it when it comes, and lets it run amok. His path to the final is not overly arduous. With Nadal out the best players are on the other half of the draw. Should he get there he’ll face Federer on the Swiss master’s favourite court with history beckoning and an unbearable burden of expectation on Murray’s frail shoulders. But so long as he is out there, trying in vain to control his body and mind, there remains a chance that he might break the longest, most wrenching drought in British sport, and give a recession-battered nation something to treasure.

– Duncan


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Filed under Fandom, Tennis

Dude! Where's My Sponsor?


Do you think Roddick knows he looks exactly like one of the stupidest actors of all time? Was there a moment, however slight, when he gazed lovingly at the post-Mandy Moore mirror and noticed that he had traversed from classic, all-American good looks into the most depressing kind of parody of the same archetype?

I hope not, just as a desire for basic human dignity leads me to wish that Tim Henman didn’t feel a small frisson of relief at the emergence of Andy Murray. Henman’s increasingly heavy-hearted trudge through the early rounds at Wimbledon, with the weight of a once-proud tennis nation on his shoulders, became almost grotesque by the end. Roddick’s national characteristics won’t allow such maudlin thoughts any visibility, but surely privately he entertains them from time to time?

Not tonight. Tonight he was beaten by a man he accurately called “the greatest ever”, and while he displayed an over-familiar mix of fight and clutch-failure, the extent to which his capitulations were his incandescent opponent’s doing is probably beyond debate. But in the broader scheme Roddick has shouldered the weight of the United States’ expectations since the retirement of Sampras and Agassi; since he won his only (and America’s last) Grand Slam at the US Open in ’03.  Privately, he must pray for the whole sham to end. Continue reading


Filed under Reminiscing, Tennis

In Tennis, Love Means Nothing


Tennis is a great sport, no argument – let’s just move on. Tennis spectators, however, aren’t really much to write home about. They just don’t get involved enough. It’s not entirely their fault (hmm) though, with those umpires telling them to “shush up” all the time, and players not really getting into things by hitting balls at hecklers or taking a running fly-kick across the barrier at their opposition’s mother/father. What I’m saying is, tennis doesn’t really give itself the opportunity to be dangerous very often, so thank God for the Australian Open 2009, a tournament that’s starting to turn… it… up….

Don’t ask me what “Serbia”or “Croatia” are, but Australian Open officials know, and they’ve figured out that if you pit one of each in a sporting contesting against the other, it makes violence happen. Last Wednesday, “tensions boiled over ”between spectators of the match between Croatian Marin Cilic and Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, which Cilic won in four sets. Police escorted at least five fans from the Melbourne Park precinct after narrowly averting an all-out brawl. As usual, the police totally killed the party, but punches were later thrown in a scuffle near a packed bar. Both groups, wearing national colours, then continued to march around Melbourne Park in large packs. Good times.

Undeterred by the police interruption of what officials called “a good laugh”, they got hold of another Serbian player and matched him up with a Bosnian, just to see if a repeat performance was on the cards. Guess what…

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DeadBall Awards: Greatest Game 2008 (and/or Best Individual Sports Match 2008)

Individual and team sports are very different animals. Teams sports originate as a metaphor for war between villages and work as a training ground of societal virtues. While excellence and leadership are valued highly; togetherness, mutual benefit, and a responsibility of the individual to use their gifts to benefit the group are paramount. For a team to be great, the whole must be larger than the sum of its parts. It just doesn’t work otherwise. Behind every Michael Jordan there’s a Scottie Pippen. For a team to be good, all it needs is a star. For a team to be great, it needs a lot more, regardless of whether or not that ‘more’ gets headlines or not.

Individual sports on the other hand, are the fight and not the war. They are beholden to the pursuit of personal achievement and individual glory. Individual sports know nothing of passes, assists, caring, sharing, of leadership, example, SOCIETY. Individual sports are an existential staring competition with personal failure. There is no modesty, no blame, no ‘the boys’. There is only you, the Other, the winning, the losing.

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Filed under Awards, Tennis

The Dead Ball Dick-List: Lleyton Hewitt


1. His game is so ugly it’s hard to watch.

2. All the yelling and screaming is most unnecessary. Sure a bit of that stuff is warranted when the game is tense but all day, every game, every day is retarded.

3. He is such a fan of Rocky that when he was a junior, he used to shout “C’mon Balboa!”

4. He’s got no serve.

5. He’s a foot-faulter.

6. Rather than persuing excellence, his game relies on the inconsistency of others.

7. He blames his losses on everything but his own performance – often the surface of the court or the call of a linesperson.

8. In his 2005 Australian Open match against Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela, Hewitt heriocally celebrated an  unforced error. DICK MOVE. Chela responded by serveing directly at Hewitt, and spat at him during the changeover. One Australian paper proclaimed, “Many regretted [the spit] did not find its target.”

9. In a cunning PR move, Lleyton released the DVD Lleyton Hewitt: The Other Side to show the world what a nice guy he is. Only, the DVD included footage of Lleyton and Aussie Rules star Andrew McLeod at a sacred Aborignal burial site, and when McLeod refused permission to use the footage, nice-guy Lleyton used it anyway. Nice.

10. In a 2001 US Open match against James Blake, Lleyton was called for foot-faulting. He approached the Umpire and asked that the linesperson be removed. “Look at him,” he said pointing towards the black linesman, “look at him,” pointing towards his black opponent, (wait for it), “and you tell me what the similarity is.”


– Henry


Filed under Dick-List, Tennis