Simon Kelner: Calm down everyone, it was only a game of tennis

Kelner's view


What does it mean if you weren't in the least bit excited by Andy Murray?

Does it signify a lack of patriotism? Or is it because tennis is a sport that fails to get your juices flowing? Or maybe you're just a misery guts. Or perhaps a little bit of all three.

If we believe what we're told, the entire nation was in front of their television sets yesterday afternoon to watch the first British man in 74 years play in a Wimbledon singles final. The build-up was hysterical and portentous, the front page lead in virtually every Sunday newspaper. Just a little over-the-top? I was listening to the radio commentary of Murray's semi-final win against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga on Friday, and found it hard to take in the hyperbole heaped on hyperbole.

Ok, no one doubts that Murray is deserving of his place at the top table of tennis and, unlike others, I've never had a problem with his personality. In fact, I don't know what his personality is. But to listen to the commentators, you'd be forgiven for thinking Murray had just broken the world 100m record, won the Tour de France, and dribbled past the entire Spanish football team, rather than made the Wimbledon final largely because someone else had done him a favour and sent Rafael Nadal packing.

"It's going to be like 1966 all over again!" exhorted one of the excitable voices, invoking the spirit of the England World Cup-winning side. Well, no, actually. I was only eight years old when Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy, and I still remember exactly where I was, and how I felt dizzy with excitement, that sunny late afternoon. I possibly won't remember for very long that I was driving down the M40 while Murray had his appointment with history. It's also nothing to do with his Scottishness. I wouldn't feel any different if he came from Hemel Hempstead (although in the much more unlikely event that he was born in Bacup or Blackpool, I might be more able to get behind him). The fact is that while tennis is an absorbing sport, it exists in our collective consciousness for only two weeks a year, and then as something of a backdrop to a social occasion. Did you see, for instance, the acres of empty seats in the early stages of Murray's epoch-making semi-final match? Where were all those people while Murray was sweating buckets in the national cause? They were having afternoon tea, discussing Murray's heroism over Chelsea buns, finger sandwiches and fruit cake.

Now, I know these aren't real tennis devotees. Those are the ones queuing all night singing old Cliff Richard songs. But I hope you get the point. In the end, tennis doesn't really matter. I doubt that anyone in the country made so much as a cup of tea during the 1966 World Cup final. We couldn't take our eyes off it. It defined us as a nation. And that was an age when we had much more of a sense of proportion.

So, call me an anti-patriotic, uncultivated curmudgeon, but this was a moment in our momentous summer that left me cold. Sorry.


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