The Peter Corrigan Column: Murray picks up the burden to save our summer

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If Wimbledon wanted the rapt and undivided attention of genuine sports fans, they were asking a lot by staging their tennis tournament in the middle of a Lions tour, but it looks as if they could get away with it thanks to the unscheduled arrival of a hugely encouraging British hope. That Andy Murray should hit the grass running on the very day that Tim Henman was finally laying down the burden he has carried so alone and so manfully for the past 10 years was one of the most remarkable coincidences sport has seen.

If Wimbledon wanted the rapt and undivided attention of genuine sports fans, they were asking a lot by staging their tennis tournament in the middle of a Lions tour, but it looks as if they could get away with it thanks to the unscheduled arrival of a hugely encouraging British hope. That Andy Murray should hit the grass running on the very day that Tim Henman was finally laying down the burden he has carried so alone and so manfully for the past 10 years was one of the most remarkable coincidences sport has seen.

However, I'm not sure that even our haughty tennis establishment is yet aware of the full range of the blessings Murray has brought with him and what a rescue act he can perform. Much has to happen before Murray can be regarded as fully equipped for world prominence, but even before his match with David Nalbandian yesterday he could already he can be classed as a potential saviour of Wimbledon's major place in our sporting summer.

Basking primly and preciously in the sunshine last week, Wimbledon would not have been aware of any threat to its status. But, while it will be forever enshrined as a classy event and a magnet to all who take their social rituals seriously, to hold its eminence as a sporting tournament to which we British can relate it needs someone around whom can be wrapped a few homegrown dreams.

No one should underestimate the power of partisanship in establishing the appeal of our various sports. There's a patriotic pecking order that matters, particularly in the midst of our crowded sporting summers. I can't think of any comparison between the packed and raucous pub where I watched the Lions meet their well-cursed fate at breakfast-time yesterday and the genteel stands of Wimbledon, but interest in sport has its extremes, and what matters in the long term is the depth of the involvement.

A Lions tour happens only once every four years, but there's always some competing activity at this time of year. On Friday morning, the reports of Murray's and Henman's differing experiences were challenged for space in the newspapers by next season's football fixtures - and, in some, football won. But for some ludicrous fixture-arranging by the cricket authorities, we would also now be in the midst of the Ashes Test series.

Without Henman's presence over the last decade, I am not at all sure Wimbledon would be in good shape to stand up to such powerful rivalry. Neither am I sure that his contribution to maintaining interest in tennis among his country-men is appreciated. It was certainly difficult to denote any gratitude when Dmitry Tursunov forced Henman's early exit from the tournament. He was dismissed, I felt, with a slight sneer which, considering what he has done for the occasion, is unforgivable.

The frustration he has caused is almost legendary, but to have reached four quarter-finals and four semis in an event overwhelmingly dominated by foreigners for 50 or more years is laudable. And so what if the task of carrying so much hope for so long wearied him into a few oaths? Singlehandedly, he has ensured that Wimbledon has kept his nation's interest alive.

Those who have occupied Henman Hill may be a newish breed of grass-roots enthusiasts but they, too, have given the event a more valid focus. Greg Rusedski has also contributed. As a colonial, if he had qualified for our football, cricket or rugby teams he would have been clasped tightly to the national breast. As a tennis player, it hasn't happened for him.

Now we have Murray appearing from nowhere. We were aware of him, but we've been aware of so many young hopefuls who eventually lost their footing on the lower rungs. Perhaps that's why so few experts gave a hint of a prediction that he was capable of making such an impact in his first Grand Slam event. And not only does he come armed with an impressive range of abilities, he has a pugnacious personality to go with it.

It is worth noting that Murray, like Henman, is not a product of the vastly funded attempts by the Lawn Tennis Association to foster our young talent. How such a wealthy and self-regarding establishment can have presided over such an undernourished game in this country is a powerful piece of evidence against the trickle-down theory.

They should be thanking their lucky stars that Murray has happened by. The people I shared breakfast with yesterday wouldn't have dreamed of switching Wimbledon on later if he hadn't excited their curiosity.

A welcome solution

Anyone who was unaware of the strict probity employed by Uefa in all matters concerning the governance of European football might have imagined hearing the soft strains of a fiddle as the names of Liverpool and the Welsh club Total Network Solutions came out of the hat together during the draw for the first qualifying round of the Champions' League. It was all above board, of course, but the suspicions are more understandable if you recall the controversy surrounding Liverpool's entry into next season's competition after they beat Milan so thrillingly in the final in May.

Since the holders don't qualify automatically, and Liverpool hadn't qualified by finishing in the top four of the Premiership, there seemed no way they could defend their title. But little TNS (or Llansantffraid FC, as they were once named), who had gained entry by winning the Welsh League, piped up to offer to play them in an extra qualifying tie whereby TNS would get a couple of big money-making games and Liverpool would win through to take their place.

Uefa ruled this as out of the question and instead found another way to sneak Liverpool into the qualifying stage. It's pure coincidence, therefore, that Liverpool end up playing TNS after all and are saved tiresome travelling time.

So let's hear no complaints about Total Network Solutions receiving two bumper gates next month - and let's hope that all their solutions are as good as this.

A strange absence

While the Football Association's dirty washing was being aired in public last week, the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, was keeping a clean sheet on a yacht off the coast of Sicily. Since his name cropped up at an employment tribunal where the former FA secretary Faria Alam is claiming compensation for sexual discrimination, breach of contract and unfair dismissal, it was probably a good time for Eriksson to be out of the country.

But it has been pointed out that he could have spent the time more profitably in Germany watching major teams, including the hosts and Brazil, playing in the Confederations Cup. No one begrudges him a holiday, but why miss a chance to watch future opponents?

He has hardly been flogging himself recently. England's last competitive game was back in March, and at the end of the season he took a team to America on a less-than-arduous excursion to play friendlies against the US and Colombia.

Colleagues have defended his absence from the Confederations Cup by suggesting that teams playing in it are largely experimental. Would they be like the England teams that Eriksson plays in friendlies and sets great store by?

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