Sunday, July 08, 2012
My Sunday Feeling
Jimmy Connors had not been retired for very long when he called his first Wimbledon for NBC. Sitting at Centre Court on that day, wrapped in a blanket, was the extremely elderly British tennis legend Fred Perry. Dick Engberg, I believe it was, pointed out that Mr. Perry was the greatest British player in history.
To which Jimbo helpfully replied, "He's still the best one they've got." For which he caught unshirted hell from the British press.
On Friday, Scotsman Andy Murray managed to make what passes for British tennis history by being the first male subject of the Crown to make the Gentleman's Final at Wimbledon since Mr. Perry did it in 1936. Up until then the burden of ending this Cubsian draught fell upon English serve and volleyer Tim Henman who managed to reach the semi-finals in 2001 and 2002. It is for him that "Henman Hill," the grassy hill outside the stadium upon which thousands sit and watch the matches onscreen, is named. "Gentleman Tim" was a gamer but he was too slight a figure to consistently impose his will at the net.
As for Murray, he has always had plenty of game. He just had something of a reputation as a mama's boy and a head case. Prior to this year's Wimbledon, he hired Ivan Lendl as his coach. Lendl, who had something of a reputation for being being pretty much evil seemed to me to be a curious choice at first. Ivan Lendl was noticably inept on grass during his playing career. Wimbledon was the only one of the Grand Slams that he did not win. Indeed, he famously remarked that he was "allergic" to grass despite being an avid golfer. Which is played on, well, you know. To me hiring Ivan Lendl to coach grass court tennis is like unto hiring Shaquille O'Neal to teach free throw shooting.
But maybe that is not what Lendl is imparting to the hot-headed young Scot. Lendl has been quoted as saying something along the lines of, " It is better to be happy after you are a champion. It is hard to be a champion when you are happy first." And Lendl always played as if he had a mad on. He never shied away from trying to hit his opponents that dared to come in on his buggy whip forehand or tarried too long at the net when he hit an overhead. He wasn't as hated as Jimbo or Junior but he was right up there.
You now hear commentators talk about Murray's "focus" and "demeanor" two words that you rarely heard mentioned in the same sentence as the phrase "Andy Murray." And it was that focus and intensity that got him through a scary quarter-final against Spanish grinder David Ferrer. And for his trouble he gets to play 6 time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer, who completely dismantled Novac Djokovic in his semifinals.
And I wouldn't miss it for the world. This is why we watch sports.
There will be Union Jacks waved by the fans at Centre Court. You will hear drunks singing "God Save the Queen" and bagpipers playing "Scotland the Brave" out on Henman's Hill. Hell, if I was Elizabeth Rex I think I would make myself available for this one. The Emerald Isle can run itself for a day, Ma'am.
Ivan Lendl has put some steel in his boy's spine. Will that and the full throated support of the UK be enough to beat Federer? Doubtful. Murray will be a tough out under the circumstances but Federer may be the greatest grass court player in the history of the game. Murray's got a puncher's chance but that's about it.
Which is almost beside the point. I'm a Cubs fan. I enjoy a close walk with utter futility. A British subject is playing for the Gentlemen's Championship for the first time since 1936.
Like I said, I wouldn't miss this for the world. This is why we watch sports.