When singular success can lead to trouble for doubles

Double-faults have been accompanied by mutterings about newly-weds' stress
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The Independent Online

Many years ago, as a sports-mad youngster, your correspondent was puzzled after reading that Stanley Ketchel, a former world middleweight boxing champion, "was shot dead by the common-law husband of the woman who was cooking his breakfast".

Many years ago, as a sports-mad youngster, your correspondent was puzzled after reading that Stanley Ketchel, a former world middleweight boxing champion, "was shot dead by the common-law husband of the woman who was cooking his breakfast".

When understanding dawned, the manner of the death of a fighter nicknamed the "Michigan Assassin" seemed to serve as an extreme example of the risks sportsmen run when involved in personal relationships: The Samson Syndrome.

Even the mildest symptoms - signs of fatigue or indifference - are likely to cause spectators to conclude that their heroes are overdoing the night games.

Frank O'Farrell, who did not have the easiest of times as the manager of a declining Manchester United team in the early 1970s, when George Best sometimes razzled more than he dazzled, once remarked: "You only seemed to hear that George's private life was getting out of hand when things were not coming off for him on the field. It was rarely mentioned when things were going well."

Harry Catterick, creater of the beautiful Everton team of 1970, propelled by Kendall, Harvey and Ball, did not like his players to get married during the season because he thought they were a yard or two slower during the month or so afterwards.

Bill Shankly, Catterick's arch rival at Liverpool, probably agreed with that. Shankly once had a gifted young midfield player at the club who looked rather frail, so he arranged for the player's mother to receive a weekly supply of the finest steak from her butcher, at the club's expense.

One day the player knocked timidly on Shankly's office door and said he had something important to tell him. What he had he to say was that his girlfriend was pregnant and he would be getting married the following Saturday morning. Shankly rasped like a Boeing on take-off and reminded the would-be groom that Liverpool had an important match to play on the Saturday afternoon.

"I won't do anything silly, Boss," the player said. "You already have," Shankly growled.

After the player left the room, Shankly, his tone reduced to one of awe, turned to his assistant, Bob Paisley, and said: "Christ, Bob, we've bred a stag."

A healthy libido is only part of the conundrum, as we have seen with regard to the media's obsession with those mated celebrities Mr and Mrs David Beckham, whose streak of independence does not appear to be what Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson really, really wants. (Leeds United are also having a share of the publicity generated by a mixture of sport and showbusiness, in their case the brilliant Australian forward Harry Kewell and his fiancée Sheree Murphy, who plays a barmaid in the Yorkshire soap, Emmerdale. Ms Murphy, who was born in Islington, told the magazine Loaded that it would be great if Harry moved to a London club - "Arsenal or, even better, Chelsea" - because he was too famous in Leeds. "Aye lass," said Seth, a regular at the Woolpack, "and the same goes for Jack Charlton").

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, Britain's only world class tennis players, were married in December last year - not to each other but to charming women, both of whom happen to be called Lucy. Since then, the tut-tutting every time Henman misses a forehand or Rusedski double-faults has been accompanied by knowing nods and mutterings about the stress of being newly wed.

No doubt well-intentioned, the expressions of concern fail to take into account significant details.

Rusedski's loss of form and lack of confidence can be traced to an operation to remove a cyst from his right foot at Christmas, an affliction unrelated to the fact that he had recently returned from honeymoon.

In common with Henman, Rusedski is a multi-millionaire in his late twenties and unlikely to develop ulcers worrying about paying the mortgage. Moreover, Henman and Rusedski lived with their partners for some time before they were married. As Henman told Ace magazine: "It's almost a bigger step when you start living together. The year that happened took some adjustment."

Lucy Henman was among the spectators at Wimbledon last month, sharing the disappointment of her husband's fourth-round defeat by Mark Philippoussis in five sets. She was also at the courtside in Cincinnati last Thursday night to see her husband accomplish his biggest win, a 6-3, 6-4 victory against Pete Sampras.

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