Sport on TV: Murray serves up a twist for nation's identity crisis
Sunday 06 July 2008
So we were spared the ritualistic quarter-final misery at Euro 2008. But even after the retirement of Tim Henman we could not avoid the soul-searching brought on by a quarter-final at Wimbledon. Andy Murray's mouth was so big that he seemed capable of swallowing the hopes of an entire nation. But at least with Murray we can now hope for a great comeback. With Henman it always seemed like he was about to blow a two-set lead.
David Mitchell pointed out on 'Question Time' that our two-week affair with tennis is more complex than just never winning anything. It is an identity crisis for Middle England. The comedian's comments came in reply to a question from the audience about whether Murray's success was yet another indication of the English people's creeping jealousy of the Scots. Better legal system, better university education, better tennis players. But has it really come to this? Just cheer him on if he wins and hate him when he loses. It's simple. After all, we used to cheer on a big lummox of a Canadian.
Henman didn't even make it to the quarter-finals this year, prompting ridicule from Sue Barker and John McEnroe as he bowed out of his inaugural stint as a pundit because he had lost his voice. So there's yet another thing for poor Tim to lose.
Henman was always going to be part of the BBC coverage because he is the darling of Wimbledon. He could just sit there and smile, put on a sweatband and clench his fist every now and then. No need to talk. But if you put him on the radio he disappears, because he sounds just like a million other English people – which was always part of the attraction.
Listening to tennis on Radio 5 Live can be something of a relief. You don't have to witness the horror, but simply admire the verbal dexterity of the commentators as they keep up with the play. But whose idea was 'The Stick Show', as it came to be known? Michael Stich is an extraordinary choice of host. His attempts at humour are obliging but sparse, and the overall impression is of listening to the World Service.
The Beeb did come up with one innovation this year: Pat Cash took a microphone on court and chatted to the umpire and his over-35s doubles partner, Wayne Ferreira, during the match. Perhaps they should do the same with Murray, though the bleeping machine may have to be borrowed from the net cord. All Cash needed was Judy Murray, who seemed to be everywhere at once, to be strapped to his back and he would become the ultimate tennis media accessory.
Strangely, Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz, was there on the evening of Murray's gargantuan effort to beat Richard Gasquet. It was "Happy days at the Big W". Sadly, he was wrong. There was only one happy day.
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