x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

For wedded bliss give tennis a miss

A happy marriage, like being a happy British tennis fan, is all about managing expectation. Aim low, says Will Batchelor

Fans on Murray Mound went through an emotional wringer with Andy Murray during his quarter-final against Fernando Verdasco.
Fans on Murray Mound went through an emotional wringer with Andy Murray during his quarter-final against Fernando Verdasco.

It is hard to imagine a worse place to make a marriage proposal than atop "Murray Mound" (nee "Henman Hill"), that raucous corner of the All England Club where patriotic tennis fans watch the live Wimbledon action on giant screens.

But that is what one lovestruck young beau chose to do this week, getting down on one knee at the very place where dreams are dashed.

What a spot to start your combined future: a physical monument to blind, irrational optimism and its inevitable defeat by the forces of logic. Not a great omen for a long-lasting union.

For a more suitable symbolism, our Romeo would have done better to pop the question at the Queen's warm-up tournament last month. A happy marriage, like being a happy British tennis fan, is all about managing expectation. Aim low, savour the small triumphs, and you stand a chance of contentment.

Pin all your hopes on some glorious fairy-tale ending, however, and you are likely to end up bitterly disappointed.

I fear this year's disappointment will taste even more bitter than usual. With so many factors falling in Murray's favour - most obviously the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - it will feel even more sickening when he fails to overcome the force of nature that is Novak Djokovic.

Mark my words, there will be tears before bedtime on Murray Mound this Sunday, assuming the home hero gets past Jerzy Janowicz today. But they will be back next year to put themselves through it all over again.

We can only hope the engagement is still on by then.

There are, of course, a few blissfully happy British tennis fans at Wimbledon this week. They are the ones who have realised that nationalism and tennis do not mix. Just support the players you like to watch and do not fret about their passport.

Nationalism with football makes sense. The national team is made up of our players, from our clubs. We watch them every week for nine months of the year. One can make similar cases for rugby, cricket and athletics.

But for tennis?

Andy Murray is a product of a British home, yes, but one that had the good sense to ship him out to Spain when they realised he could swing a racket.

He has a core of Scottish steel, for sure, but one that did not yield a major until it was alloyed with the Czech titanium of coach Ivan Lendl.

As for Murray's home being in England, like most tennis pros he is probably more familiar with the glossy tiles of airport lounges and hotel lobbies than the green grass of home.

I hope Murray proves me wrong regarding this year's failure. He is a hugely talented and hard-working professional held back not so much by his own limitations as the brilliance of those around him. But if he does win, it will be his alone. Claiming it as a national triumph would be pure folly.

The Murray Mounders will say otherwise, of course, but what do they know? They are even dafter than a young man in love.

****

Of all the folk who work in professional sport, it is not the athletes who make me feel most inadequate.

To reach their position requires much hard graft, yes, but one must also be genetically blessed in some way: height, reach, lung capacity, resting heart rate. No point beating myself up over something beyond my control.

No, the guys who really put me to shame are the pit crews in Formula One.

We could all do what they do, right? They are not genetic freaks but “ordinary” mortals.

It is just that they are down there in the heart of the action, and we are not, as a result of hard work, intelligence, vaulting ambition and the type of single-minded focus that I have no excuse for not possessing myself.

So, I will be honest. I was secretly pleased to learn that some of them had allegedly put the Pirelli tyres on the wrong wheels at Silverstone this week during the British Grand Prix, and inflated them to incorrect levels, causing those blow-outs.

That is precisely the sort of boneheaded thing I would do, too. Now, if one of them could accidentally brim Lewis Hamilton’s tank with diesel, or spend five minutes wondering where to put the jack during a pit-stop before popping next door to ask a grown-up, I would feel even better about myself.