Until play actually started the BBC must have been quietly satisfied with its Wimbledon coverage. Or at least relieved. With an hour or so gone and virtually the whole country watching, at least none of their commentators had triggered a Twitter-storm – as John Inverdale had done the day before with his less-than-chivalrous remarks about Marion Bartoli and the hitherto unexplored Appearance/Trying Really Hard nexus.
True, these are the set-play moments in the coverage of any big sporting event, a time to roll out the prepared statements (“77 years of expectation... 77 years of close calls... 77 years of pain”) and the heavily-filtered montages.
So there were bound to be moments that made us squirm a little in our seats – such as the Djokovic profile framed as a Man of Steel trailer or the over-worked curtain-raiser which talked of Murray’s “long and punishing road of redemption”.
But the audience understands that BBC Sport gets a little over-excited at such moments and is prepared to forgive quite a lot. It’s a religion to these people and they must be allowed their rituals: the orchestral surge, the slow-mo highlights, the implication that this is as important an historical moment as the Normandy landings.
We’re not as easy-going when the action starts, though. And when it did, to borrow one of Andy Castle’s phrases, “suddenly things went south”. What was most striking was how none of the BBC’s commentators allowed their inside knowledge of the game and unique personal knowledge of what it’s like to play a men’s final on centre court to get in the way of pure reflexive yelping.
There were some slip-ups when useful information was accidentally released on air. We found out, for the first time in my memory, what the players are actually looking for when they pick through the balls before a serve, like someone selecting apples at Sainsbury’s (apparently they’re looking for “skinny” balls with less fluff). But that was a rarity. For the most part they confined themselves to championship level statements of the obvious.
“This man knows now he’s got to find a way to break the Murray serve,” said Boris, after Djokovic had lost the first, as if the Serb’s game plan until then had been to trade games until Murray actually dropped unconscious.
“He needs to win this set to stay competitive,” said someone else, rounding out the developing thesis that champions – statistically speaking – have to do better than the other guy to get their names on the silverware.
As if to give us a break from the platitudes, the camera cut to sunbathers looking at swans outside the ground. But it was no good. Someone promptly chipped in with that cliché about how the birds can break your arm with one blow of their wings and the director gave in and cut back to the tennis.
“The last thing he wants to do now is start thinking too much,” said Castle, as Murray went ahead in the third set – the first moment at which you really had a sense that the commentator was drawing on personal experience.
But in the end it didn’t matter. The premature pronouncements of victory hadn’t had their usual baleful effect and the underpowered verbals will have been forgotten the moment Murray clinched it. The men in the commentary box didn’t have a great game but the one that mattered played a blinder.