Once every four years, in the couple of weeks leading up to the start of Wimbledon, we are spared the somewhat odd idea that the country is actually all consumed by the game of Tennis for a month as we endure the several Wimbledon warm up tournaments, and then of course the two weeks of poor weather that usually follows when the All England Club Championship begins in earnest.
The reason? Quite simply, it is a World Cup year and England have qualified, though so far they are doing their damndest, it seems, to make sure that they are back home as soon as is humanly possible. In such circumstances, Wimbledon could start with Roger Federer taking to the centre court, performing cartwheels and naked but for a strategically placed tube of Tennis balls and the Sporting paparazzi would hardly merit it noteworthy in their daily dispatches.
This is the problem for sporting events that happen in a World Cup year and particularly those that are run while the World Cup is in full flow. Even though this World Cup has, by and large, been a little disappointing, it is still far more ‘important’ to the vast majority of sports fans in the UK, than how Andy Murray or Laura Robson and co will perform.
Indeed the sneaky feeling I had yesterday was that it wasn’t just the fans and press that have relegated Wimbledon to the small columns. When I heard that Roger Federer was two sets to love down to his unseeded Colombian opponent, Alejandro Falla, in the first round, I did wonder if the Swiss genius had decided to get the first round out of the way quickly so he could catch the second half of the Switzerland-Chile game.
In a country when football is unquestionably the king, Wimbledon tends to occupy a sensible place in the Sporting schedule. Late June. This is well after the season has ended and well before the new one begins. Pre-season training won’t have got under way for most clubs. Football fans, desperate for something to cheer for, will see the BBC coverage and declare their support for our next great British hope. What we did in the 20 years between Virginia Wade and Tim Henman I don’t know, but at least since Tim, we’ve also had Greg Rusedksi (who we borrowed from Canada, a bit like Lennox Lewis) and now Andy Murray.
This support is unwavering of course; well it is until they lose and then we put our Tennis rackets back in the cupboard for another year, the council courts across the country empty and we begin nervously pacing, waiting for the new season’s soccer kit to be put in the shops ready to be worn for the first pre-season friendly.
However when a World Cup is on, Wimbledon stands no chance. Andy Murray’s game today (Tuesday) would normally have been hyped as another great chance for a British star to finally win a Grand Slam for the first time in probably 31,237 years or something like that. We’d all be ‘doing a Murray’, wearing clothes that seem slightly dishevelled and looking as if we are in desperate need of a wash and a trip to the barbers.
Now? It’s all Fabio and John Terry’s spat. Can England actually be bothered to play against Slovenia tomorrow? Who can beat Argentina or Brazil? Are Spain back to their best? And perhaps best and most enjoyable of all, has any team made as much of a complete balls-up of a World Cup finals appearance than the French have done this year?
You know it’s a World Cup year when newscasters report that the wife of Chilean star Valdivia reported incorrectly that he had a thigh muscle tear, instead of just cramp, well ahead of Andy Murray’s first round clash…
The thing is, without the hype and fevered support; I think Murray stands a better chance of doing something at Wimbledon. The Scot always looks weighed down with the collective hope and expectation of a nation, in much the same way Tim Henman was, at Wimbledon.
I don’t think it is simply a question of the type of surface being why Murray has tended to perform better away from Wimbledon, especially in Grand Slam tournaments.
So for Andy’s sake, let’s hope that England can stay in the tournament on Wednesday afternoon. The less hype and pressure on the Scot, then the more chance he has, in my view, of ending Roger Federer’s reign on grass. Not that the chances are that great anyway, but we’ll take any help we can get to be honest.
Because as soon as the country gets behind one of our sporting stars or teams, that is when the wheels seem to spectacularly fall off…