Brian Viner: Hope springs eternal – and so does defeat

We are a schizophrenic lot, half-Eeyore and half-Tigger
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The Independent Online

Andrew Cotter, the commentator during yesterday morning's television coverage of the men's final of the Australian Open, explained to viewers who had tuned in to BBC1 to see The Andrew Marr Show that they would have to turn to BBC2. On BBC1, he said jauntily, they were sticking with the Andrew Murray show.

Half an hour later, Sue Barker, anchoring the presentation in London, added that viewers who were hoping to see a programme called The Big Questions would have to switch to BBC2. Here on BBC1, she said portentously, they were sticking with the big questions being asked of Andy Murray in the Rod Laver Arena.

If only The Andrew Marr Show and The Big Questions had been followed in the schedules by John Schlesinger's 1971 film about a complicated love triangle, starring Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch, then Barker could have directed viewers to BBC2 and explained grimly that on BBC1 they were sticking with the Sunday bloody Sunday unfolding in Melbourne, where Novak Djokovic of Serbia was brutally hammering nails into British hopes that we might finally be able to celebrate our first male winner of a Grand Slam event since Fred Perry in 1936.

Djokovic trounced Murray 6-4 6-2 6-3, one in the eye for all those who felt sure that, with neither the mighty Roger Federer nor the formidable Rafa Nadal on the other side of the net, the Scot was at last going to break Britain's somewhat embarrassing 75-year duck. Instead, fiercely though he hurried and scurried, he looked second best from the first rally of the match, and it is hard to overlook the fact that Murray has now not only lost the three Grand Slam finals he has contested, but has lost them all in straight sets.

Ever since he succeeded Tim Henman as our greatest hope, the tennis cognoscenti have been saying that, without doubt, this son of Dunblane is good enough to win one or more of the game's four glittering prizes: the Australian, French and US Opens, and Wimbledon. In 2005, when he first entered the limelight at Wimbledon, losing a five-set Centre Court thriller to the tough Argentine David Nalbandian in the third round, I asked him at a press conference whether he would be satisfied at the end of his career with a Wimbledon record like Henman's? It was a tricky question for an 18-year-old but he handled it with aplomb, showing proper respect for Henman, the All-England Club's perennial quarter- and semi-finalist, but leaving us in doubt that before he was done he intended to bag a string of Grand Slam titles.

More than five years on, that ambition remains unstarted, and the doubters are beginning to circle like carrion crows, suggesting that he might remain a victim of his own ferocious desire, destined to keep beating himself up in the shadow of Federer, Nadal and now Djokovic. At least he can take heart from Federer's age; the great man will be 30 this year. And there are signs that Nadal, though still only 24, can't sustain the remarkable physicality of his game. But the brilliant Djokovic is precisely one week Murray's junior.

Still, for most British sports fans, hope springs as eternal as pessimism. We are a schizophrenic lot, half-Eeyore and half-Tigger, convinced much of the time that there's someone else in the world better than our man, our woman, our team, yet prepared with the slightest encouragement to cast aside those defeatist instincts and start stringing up the bunting in anticipation of glorious victory.

It happens before every international tournament with the England football team, and will keep happening with Murray too, no matter how many times we invest all our emotions in him, only to find we have invested imprudently. The suspicion that he might just be our sporting Northern Rock won't stop us getting over-excited every time he reaches the last four of a Grand Slam tournament, anticipating a final killing backhand to the long hoodoo.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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