Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Murray Hill

(not Charlton related)

After Tim Henman's retirement from Wimbledon in 2007, the key debate within tennis circles centered upon the appropriate renaming of 'Henman Hill' in honour of our next big hope, Andy Murray. For reasons unknown, the public and their media opted for 'Murray Mount', which sounds more like a sexual position that young Andy might enjoy post-victory, rather than an embankment.

New Yorkers would have been more than happy to temporarily offer them the far classier 'Murray Hill', which broadly defines the area in Manhattan encompassed by 29th Street, 42nd Street, Fifth Avenue and Second Avenue. It's an increasingly popular neighbourhood, convenient for Midtown, and comprising several new apartment towers, whilst also including the iconic Empire State Building on its Western fringes.

Despite his admirable Centre Court heroics on Monday, the British public remain decidedly unsure about the moody Scotsman. It's a great shame because, unlike Henman before him (who was a great overachiever, contrary to popular belief), Murray has a real chance to win Grand Slams including Wimbledon, and it could genuinely happen as soon as this Sunday.

Ever the contrarian, I can't help but like Andy Murray; any true tennis fan would because he plays the game with such style and flair. Of course he's dour (he's Scottish after all, just like our PM), but he's only 21-years old, fabulously talented and could be dominant in a major global sport for several years.

Annoyingly, unlike Henman before him, I can't claim to have beaten Murray at tennis, but then again given that he would only have been 3-years old when I stopped playing seriously, I'm reasonably confident that I would have done.

We should be embracing him, yet it seems it's not the British way to embrace those blessed with the type of single-mindedness required to genuinely succeed. The attitude towards Lewis Hamilton for example seems similarly indifferent, as it was towards Nick Faldo, Lennox Lewis, Linford Christie etc.. Not surprisingly each excelled in individual sports where the feckless are soon found out, hence the highly-driven attitude. If you've ever heard Tiger Woods interviewed you'd conclude that greatness and charisma are uncomfortable bedfellows (not that I'm comparing Murray to the unparalleled Woods of course).

For a period in the 1990s, there was much fear that the big servers would ruin the game, perhaps requiring draconian measures such as a move to just a single service delivery. However the graceful but varied games of Federer, Nadal, and very obviously now Murray and Gasquet, have put those fears to rest for now.

Talking of Murray and Gasquet, my favourite match of the tournament so far has not been that twilight classic, but rather the bespectacled and wonderfully named Janko Tipsarevic's victory over Andy Roddick. Without his enormous 140mph+ serve, the likeable American would probably not even be in the world's top 50 such is the mediocrity of the rest of his game, yet he has a US Open title to his name, and a couple of runners-up medals from Wimbledon.

Thus watching the mercurial Serb take him apart with some glorious touch and brilliant shotmaking variety, was a true tennis lover's joy to behold. You know he probably doesn't have the power to win the seven consecutive matches required to win Grand Slams, but he swiftly became my favourite player that no-one else has heard of. Like Tipsarevic, you can guarantee that the other players loathe facing Murray because they never quite know what to expect.

The men's draw is interesting because the winner of Murray/Nadal would be very hot favourites to make a smooth transition straight to the final, given that neither Arnaud Clement nor Rainer Schuttler (both in their 30s) were expected to get very far at all.

Nadal however must be a nightmare to play against for a different reason, namely the ludicrous topspin he generates particularly on his forehand. Whilst he has added an efficient sliced backhand, he generally lacks Murray's guile, and if the Scot can get fired up earlier than the end of the third set this time, he has a superb chance of progressing in my view (at least a better than 7/2 chance anyhow).

Roger Federer meanwhile must negotiate big-serving Mario Ancic (the last player to beat him at Wimbledon), and then the similarly powerful but volatile, Feliciano Lopez or Marat Safin. The 4/6 odds on Federer overcoming the final three obstacles in his path are decidedly unexciting, although he has cruised through to the last eight without dropping a set.

I couldn't give too hoots about women's tennis (where's the variety?) and in common with anyone with Centre Court tickets for Saturday, I'm dreading the monotony of another all-Williams final. However it's hard as a Charlton fan to resist the charms of a player called Zheng, so I'm gunning for her and indeed she may well have the intensity to unnerve both sisters on her way to an extraordinary wild-card title.

Fresh from selecting 3 of the 4 Euro 2008 semi finalists, NY Addick confidently predicts:

Men's Singles: Federer (Winner), Murray (Runner-Up)
Women's Singles: Zheng (Winner), V Williams (Runner-Up)


At 1:43 PM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

Great post and I have to agree with you Murray wants to win so badly unlike gentleman Henman, although I am probably being a bit harsh on Henman but he never seemed that hungry. Us Brits we love to build them up to become winners and knock um down as quickly as we can-Prime example Nick Faldo appeared charmless and totally focused and all he wanted to do was win and I admire him for that.


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