Sport On TV: Court drama offers afternoon delight for growing army of armchair punters

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The Independent Online

Last Wednesday, in the hyped "Battle of Britain", as Murray and Tim Henman made their way to the court the 18-year-old Scot was walking behind his boyhood hero. Then, whether by design or not, Henman paused and Murray passed. The symbolism was not lost. Henman dropped his serve, conceded the first set 6-2 and was soon a 20-1 chance on Betfair to win the match.

The BBC had not quite moved Heaven and Earth to get live coverage of this first encounter between Britain's present and future, but they did have to shift some of their programmes as the match in the Swiss Indoors ate up two-and-a-half hours of afternoon viewing. With Murray 5-2 up in the first set of a match the bookmakers initially felt he would not win, a message flashed on screen: "Castle in the Country will be shown at 4pm".

No it wouldn't. Having lost that opening set, Henman battled back to win the second. "Flog It will now be shown at 3.30pm tomorrow," another caption told viewers. "Our apologies, you can see it tomorrow," said co-commentator Andrew Castle, "but there's an interesting tennis match in Basle. Murray has blown his chance, will he get another?" Then, more disruption to the Beeb's regular audience. At 5-5 in the final set, another caption: "Ready Steady Cook will follow this programme."

When Murray finally prevailed, there was much talk about the changing of the guard. "It's too early to say that," said Castle. "I agree," said Sue Barker. "That sort of thing doesn't happen in one match." Even Henman seemed a bit underwhelmed by the hype. After all, this was a first-round indoor match played in front of a smattering of spectators.

"I don't know what this mysterious thing is," he said. "Is it a flag, a torch, a baton? Whatever you think it is, you can pass it to Andy and I won't be offended."

This particular three-setter was hardly edge-of-the-seats stuff, Henman being a long way short of his best, but Murray did what any player ranked 70 in the world would have: win. "He continues to surprise," said Castle at 4-4 in the final set. "He only turned 18 in May, you know. Here he is sharing an arena, swapping blows with one of his heroes. He's now two games away from a very famous victory. He was not even close six months ago. Giving [Henman] a duffing, is the expression."

Afterwards, the bookmakers were quick to revise their odds. Murray is now 5-1 to win Wimbledon by 2010, 12-1 to win a Grand Slam before the end of next year and 8-1 to be in the ATP top 10 by the end of next year. They claim over £1 million was wagered on Wednesday's match, and single winning bets of up to £13,500 were struck on the teenager.

The good thing for tennis and Murraymania is that, unlike England's Ashes heroes, the sport will be on terrestrial for the forseeable future. Murray himself says he was inspired by Henman to pick up a racket, and it's likely he will be a similar inspiration. So, get out the Union Jack hat, in around 232 days it's time for Wimbledon.

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