Monday, 6 June 2011

Looking For A Steal

June has arrived with rain which can only mean one thing: we’re once again on the verge of Murray mania. As the world’s elite prepare to descend on the lawns of Wimbledon in the coming weeks, we can be quietly confident that once again the nation’s optimists – from north and south of the border – are preparing to descend on the grass of Murray Mound, ready to cheer on their champion elect.

We can be just as sure that the nation’s cynics are also making their preparations. If you listen carefully you can already hear them sharpening their pencils and jostling for position to be the first to tear Murray to shreds, ready to scapegoat him for the failure of a generation and to castigate him for his careless handling of the nation’s hopes year after year. God forbid he should actually win – how disappointing that would be for the hacks when they find they cannot just copy and paste from yesteryear’s articles.

In fairness, when it comes to tennis there does seem to be a perennial sense of déjà-vu. Although – in fairness – much of that stems from the majestic tennis that has been played over the past decade by a new cohort of stars who have combined pace and power with a deft touch and a vision of the game that had seemed to elude their immediate predecessors (the match-up in the final this weekend just gone a case in point). There were of course stars in the 90s; players who rose to become not just giants of tennis but of sport as a whole. Together they introduced a new ferocity to the sport, exemplified by serves of awesome power that pushed titles out of the reach of previous champions who had triumphed through a more delicate, perhaps craftier style of play.

But today, a new breed of tennis player led by Messrs Federer and Nadal can claim to have brought the craft back – only with the power still turned up to ten. The sport’s headlines may have become somewhat predictable with the near strangle-hold that Roger and Rafael have placed upon the Grand Slam events in recent years, but the action itself has remained captivating and anything but routine.

Andy Murray should rightly be considered part of that cohort that has rekindled levels of interest, beauty and excitement in the men’s game. He’s not been right at the forefront, admittedly, but has certainly played more than a bit part in the drama which has unfolded in recent years. The tag of precocious talent ready to upstage the masters may be shorn, but his credentials as a serious player remain intact and he will almost certainly have further opportunities to steal the show on the main stage.

‘Steal it’ is what you feel he will need to do – certainly the company he keeps at the top of the game renders the unbridled optimism and expectation placed upon his shoulders rather unfair. It’s not going to be handed to him on a plate. Equally, that same esteemed company makes the regular criticism he faces seem somewhat unreasonable too.

Somewhat unreasonable. I dislike the lazy journalism that loves to make a story by waiting for someone to trip up and then shoot them when they are down and I am an admirer of what Murray has managed to achieve so far – but I do wonder, as a lot of the criticism seems to focus on, whether he has it within his character to go out and ‘steal’ a major title.

We’ll have another chance to find out over the next month. I may not be taking my place with the faithful fans on Murray Mound, but I do know who I will be cheering for. Come on, Andy!

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