James Lawton: Excellence is in the air. So can an Englishman join in the fun at the Open?

Djokovic confirmed that it is possible to produce an astonishing run of consistency while retaining the ability to strike out for the great prizes
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If Rory McIlroy had any doubts about his impact on the nation's imagination they surely dissolved on his visit to Wimbledon last week. Holy cow, as my esteemed colleague Nick Bollettieri might say, he commanded almost as much attention as Pippa Middleton.



He did it for two major reasons. One was because he is young and wonderfully optimistic and thus far at least blessedly unmolested by the onset of celebrity. The other was that no casual visitor to SW19 was more entitled to breathe the air so filled with excellence.

We can only guess at the level of fresh inspiration he has drawn from the stunning impact of Novak Djokovic's thrilling and maybe seminal victory over the great Rafael Nadal but then, of course, these things work both ways.

Who on this sports planet provided a more perfect aperitif for two weeks of brilliant, and sometimes quite exquisite, competition than young Rory while shattering US Open records at the Congressional Club down the road from Capitol Hill?

Now as the focus switches to Royal St George's for the start of next week's Open there is surely a No 1 item on the wish list of all true aficionados of the games we play, as opposed to fully paid-up moralists.

It is that Tiger Woods does his version of Lazarus and rises up against the only golfer in 14 years to come close to matching his impact at Augusta. The Tiger prognosis is not good, neither physically nor psychologically, but his arrival on the shores of the English Channel would surely bring the dramas of our summer sport to another fine point of expectation.

As it is, Wimbledon surely gave us more than enough sustenance to be getting along with. It also put into perspective the achievement of McIlroy in his sport.

While English golf has been gorging itself on the fact that it dominates the world golf rankings, with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood occupying the first two places, it has repeatedly sidestepped the issue which Djokovic invaded so brilliantly at the weekend.

Djokovic delivered his first Wimbledon triumph at precisely the moment he was elevated to No 1 in the tennis rankings. He thus confirmed that it is possible to produce an astonishing run of consistency on the commercial treadmill of his sport while retaining the ability to strike out for the great prizes available only under the weight of maximum pressure.

This is in sharp contrast to the protestations of Westwood and Donald – players of otherwise splendid accomplishment, of course – who point out that while a major tournament can be achieved in a matter of four days a No 1 ranking takes two years to build. If they and the rest of English golf – still waiting for a major winner since the final statement of the steely Sir Nick Faldo at Augusta 15 years ago – had half an eye on the Centre Court last Sunday afternoon they will now know that the argument is specious.

When Djokovic knelt and ate the hallowed grass it may have seemed like some weird pagan ritual but did plainly reflect a passionate ambition to be recognised as the greatest tennis player currently at work, a distinction which, he also seemed to be saying, can only be gained by beating the best players when it matters most.

By producing the last two US Open winners, the six-county golf force of Northern Ireland has made a similar point.

Wimbledon's glory was not only to set the stage for Sunday's summit of the men's game. It also produced day-by-day evidence that men's tennis is indeed enjoying an era of captivating quality created by an elite of superb talent and competitive character – and also one that doesn't have to look too far over its shoulder to see the march of another generation of daunting promise.

The cognoscenti pick out three near automatic claimants to a place in the roll-call of significant challengers over the next few years. They are Australia's Bernard Tomic, who created such a stir while marching to the quarter-finals, Milos Raonic of Canada and Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov.

It is, of course, a routine disappointment that once again there is no young Briton announcing himself as someone to take some of the pressure off Andy Murray as he battles against the headwind created by such as Djokovic and Nadal.

But then just as the young Faldo, sitting at home in Welwyn Garden City, was inspired when he saw Jack Nicklaus fill his television screen, who knows? The extraordinary virtuosity of Djokovic might also have had a similar effect in somewhere like Hertfordshireor Hants.

Faldo announced as a late-starting teenager that he was willing to hit millions of golf balls if it would bring him a fraction of the glory found by the Golden Bear. He said that his ambition was to become a "golf machine". On Sunday evening Djokovic recalled his Serbian youth in similar terms. He talked of the lonely honing of skills and all the while dreaming that one day he would know the time when all the effort and the pain were rewarded.

Three years ago some of us thought we had seen the ultimate tennis match when Nadal separated Roger Federer from the Wimbledon title over five stupendous sets – and maybe we did. But then when the wheel turned on the great man from Majorca, when he was consumed by the daring and perfectly realised skill of the new champion, we knew that if this phenomenon was different to one in 2008 it was also unforgettable.

Once again there was excellence in the air, salt enough indeed to nourish a whole new generation – and remind us again of the oldest and truest definition of something that still, sometimes, makes sport so gloriously worthwhile.

Haye all too fitting a model for commercial exploitation



How casual and opportunistic but careless is the thinking of the great army of money men who seek to squeeze every commercial possibility out of sport.

We are told that the Football Association felt too beholden to the financial benefits of its relationship with kit suppliers Umbro to protest the decision to have David Haye model the national team's new second strip at the climax of his catastrophic campaign in Hamburg.

No matter that Haye had consistently dragged the image of English sport down into the gutter, or that the England team does not exactly enjoy a reputation for grown-up acceptance of the demands of being at the forefront of national aspirations in sport, it seems that the TV numbers were just too enticing.

Dismissed, obviously, was the not distant memory of John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy not, we were led to believe, just for allegedly conducting an affair with the mother of a former team-mate's child but also attempting to exploit financially his status in an inappropriate fashion.

As Haye's moment of destiny disintegrated so abysmally, it was certainly hard not to conclude that everyone concerned got pretty much what they deserved.

Kvitova looks a natural heir to Navratilova

With the departure of Venus and Serena, who for so long had dominated women's tennis largely on their own terms, it was assumed that the queen of yesterday, Maria Sharapova, would resume in the old routine.

With unlimited charm, Petra Kvitova, the graduate of a cramped flat in Bilovec, put the theory into the old Czech wood-cutting machine her proud countrywoman Martina Navratilova used to bring to most of the big occasions.

The stately Sharapova maintained her dignity despite her level of shock. For the rest of us there was only the exhilaration of seeing a big, talented and utterly unaffected girl become the most accomplished of sportswomen right in front of our eyes.

It was a performance, on and off the court, guaranteed to make any father proud. Wimbledon had many reasons to count its luck these few weeks but few exceeded the exciting and hugely refreshing Petra Kvitova.

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