There are few sport that, over the years, £ for £ and player for player, have received more grants, bursaries and donations – official (from governmental-supported sources, like Sport England) or otherwise (private benefactors) – than tennis.
Yet Britain still hasn’t produced a Wimbledon’s men’s singles champion since 1938, Andy Murray being the latest Great Might Hope to see his and the nation’s dreams dashed on the hallowed lawns of SW19.
Following the shock defeats of Djokovic and Nadal and against an allegedly ageing Roger Federer – 30 being the tennis equivalent of a biblical three-score-and-ten for mere mortals – Murray was well hyped to become the first home-grown player to succeed Fred Perry.
At least the braveheart Scot – if he’d actually beaten Federer, the English would have elevated Andy to the status of British – had the grit and gumption to win the first set, could have won the second, before being steamrolled to oblivion by the elegant, artful and erudite Swiss warrior.
The natural order was restored, despite Federer’s unaccustomed litany of unforced errors – well into double figures for a player normally so reliable in his choice and execution of shots, you can count his miss-hits throughout a match on one hand.Yet, there was one aspect of Murray’s appearance in Sunday’s final that was a winner: his tearful, lump-in-the-throat valediction at the end that produced a groundswell of appreciation around Centre Court and many a weeping eye in the massive tele-audience.
In that brief, plaintive speech he displayed raw emotions many doubted he possessed – genuine sadness replacing the dour, at times scowling countenance that has become his default expression, regret writ large on his face and in his quivering voice that he couldn’t reshape history.
It caused the Duchess of Cambridge to bite her bottom lip, her sister, Pippa – she of shapely posterior fame – to dab her eyes and even Victoria Beckham looked glummer than normal.
Though it fell short of Federer’s steel and panache, Murray’s tenacity and talent elevated him to a pantheon above all the other British nearly-was brigade of losers – e.g. the nice, but serial flop, Tim Henman, John Lloyd (who at least won three, mixed-doubles Grand Slams), way back to Roger Taylor (thrice a Wimbledon semi-finalist) and even Mike Sangster (a one-time Wimbledon semis loser).
And, apart from pocketing the £half-million runner-up’s purse, Murray won over many new hearts, who previously had admired the tennis player but disliked the apparent grouchiness of the man.
So far as British tennis is concerned, though – apart from a promising crop of teenage girls – it has much to answer for, the main question being: why, after so much investment in the game, have we only one male singles player good enough to grace a Wimbledon final?