Sunday, 14 June 2009

More History in the Making...

You'll not be surprised to learn that last weeks rather hallucinatory tennis venture left me a little hung over.

So much so that I almost missed the week's action at Queens this year. It wasn't until Thursday that the matches began to vaguely interest me. And it took what I'm pretty sure qualifies as a once in a lifetime experience to get me fully on board: Andy
Roddick hit a single handed backhand winner down the line.

I'm not even sure whom he was up against. Thinking back now I'd say it was in his match against Hewitt. But that's neither here no there. Grass makes things like that happen. The combination of the low bouncing, speedier and more slippery feel of the surface seems to
connive together mischievously with the occasional imperfect bounce to yield a tennis experience that forces desperate plays like that. As well as players out of their comfort zone.

He was stretched out wide and found himself robbed of the time and court positioning he'd need to set himself up for that much improved double-
hander we know (and don't always love) so well. I was expecting a desperate shot. And yes, instincts did take over, but not in the predictably unregulated way you might imagine. This was the A-Rod exuding confidence, with an almost craftsman-like air, knowingly going through the motions of the only aggressive shot possible under the circumstances. Rather like he's been all year.

Blake hit a single handed backhand slice winner down the line later that day that wasn't nearly as good - but in a split second that unique slice of Parisian history was, not forgotten, but tagged and suitably archived, to be enjoyed again another day, as I was suddenly reminded of my love affair with grass court tennis.

Sure, the rallies are considerably shortened, sometimes over in the blink of an eye - you sometimes think the authorities' intransigence to increase upon that 5-week 'season' is because it serves as a deliberate 'blink and you'll miss it' metaphor for those shortened rallies.

But like clay, grass rewards a particular style of play - to take advantage of it, you either need to be naturally gifted, or skilled enough to play to the needs of the surface.

No coincidence then that 70% of the field (hard
courters, every last one of them) suddenly begins to look very ordinary out there.

And as entertaining a take on Wimbledon as it was,
Lleyton's observation that "there's only a handful of players capable of winning Wimbledon each year", is unreservedly, spot on.


I suppose I should say something about Andy Murray, seeing as he won the Queen's Club Title today, the first Brit to do so in 71 years, when the trophy was lifted by someone calling himself 'Bunny' Austin.

(Yes alright, my sides split too the first time I heard that name. Now stop rolling around, and let's be adults please.)

"Stop pratting about with that arty shot of a clothes hanger and get a pic of this'ere piece of silverware..."
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

"Alright that's too close boys..."
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Such a resoundingly colourful name seems to reflect all the swagger of the age, the considerably different attitudes to the game - not at all out of place in a Golden Era of British Tennis in which you could count Fred Perry amongst your contemporaries. And sure enough his equally colourful
Wikipedia bio makes mention of conscientious objection, tennis matches with Charlie Chaplin and a friendship with Daphne du Maurier.

Not to mention winning the Davis Cup for Britain alongside Fred Perry four times (1933-1936) and forming one half of the celebrity couple of the age.

And Tennis-Celebs these days think
they know a thing or two about living it up.

You've got a lot to live up to Andy. And with a mundane sounding name like 'Andrew Murray' you might need some help jazzing it up. Which is where I think his game (and in particular his backhand) comes into it's own.

Nadal pulled out of Queens last week, Andy suddenly found himself the top seed. Which was great, but I also remember thinking what presumably anyone who follows the sport for the other 48 weeks of tennis we have all year might think: with the big wins Murray's had since last year, with the title's he's won and his appearance in the US Open final, he should go on to win this thing with consummate ease.

Anything less would qualify surely, as a disappointment of the severest kind.

The good news is he did exactly as I'd hoped, serving his way to the Title without dropping a set.

Under the gaze of a very discerning and annoyingly expectant media eye.

No nerves. No expletives. No facial contortions. And not too many '

Just big serving, a repeat of his Wimbledon showing last year where he served on average at around 132mph, and a mixture of those crunching
groundstrokes and feather light touch, that gave us amongst other things, two very special contenders for 'play of the week'.

Can't find a video but if you've seen it you'll know the ones I mean.

One was a perfectly timed lob off an aggressive net rush by
Mardy Fish, a rush that actually saw Murray pushed far back. A position that would have caused other players to panic, but which instead saw Murray pull off a shot we all know he's capable of, but often recently seems too inhibited to try.

The other was a repeat of one of the shots
Federer used en route to his first Wimbledon Title - a shot that lead the press to gush that he was reinventing tennis - a short half volley cross court winner flicked effortlessly by a player that demands more of his tennis.

All of which got me thinking. Murray often goes to great lengths to convince us that hard courts are his 'surface of choice', and that though he'd like to win Wimbledon, it's at the US Open that he feels most comfortable of winning his first Slam.

I dunno. Anyone that can transition to grass
that seamlessly and begin to pull of the outrageous winners he did after what is after all a 'minimalist' grass court practice regime, surely must be considered a contender. More so, considering the wins he's had over Federer and Nadal.

And Andy might have more than the pressure of the British Press and Public this year. As if that weren't enough, it's also the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Fred Perry. The last Englishman to win Wimbledon.

Federer's win in Paris was historic? Hold your horses.
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