The Last, Best Hope of British Tennis?

Though its roots can be traced back as far as ancient Persia and Egypt, the game of tennis as we know it is unmistakably British, having been patented by a man named Major Walter Wingfield in 1874. Three years later, the first tennis championship was played at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, that by now is known simply as Wimbledon.

Despite these British origins, however, the Brits have been famously unfortunate playing their own game: no British man has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Later that year, Perry also won the US Open. That title remains the most recent Slam victory by a British male player.

Various players over the years have been seen as the successor to Perry’s legacy, with men like John Lloyd, Greg Rusedski, and Tim Henman all tantalizing the public with their performances and all, in the end, falling short. Now, all eyes are fixed on 24-year-old Andy Murray, who briefly held the World #2 ranking (the first British man ever to reach such a level) and who has played in three Grand Slam finals, more than any Brit since Perry.

With Wimbledon beginning this month, Murray is under more scrutiny than ever from the home crowd, with whom he has in the past had a choppy relationship. He has been seen as anti-English due to comments he made before the 2006 World Cup, remarks that Murray tried to clarify by asserting that he is ‘British’ as well as Scottish. He is known for getting frustrated on the court, leading some critics to assert that he would do well to find a new attitude. Some find his playing style offensive, saying that he passes up opportunities to go for the winner in lieu of waiting for opponents to make mistakes and that he needs to adopt a more aggressive style of play if he wants to win a Major. And, though he’s shown some signs of lightening up, there’s little doubt that Murray finds the pressure of expectation a bit daunting – especially as every Major lost adds one more to his resume of failed efforts, further fodder for his critics. Currently, he’s the #4 player in the world – but he’s lost two Slam finals to Roger Federer (the 2008 US Open and the 2010 Australian Open) and one to Novak Djokovic (this year’s Australian Open). He is also a woeful 4-11 against Rafael Nadal – currently the world’s top tennis player. Murray, say his critics, simply doesn’t have what it takes to hang with the very best.

Still, he’s the best hope they have. He began his latest assault on Wimbledon with a first-round victory last Monday, dropping his first set to Daniel Gimeno-Traver before dismantling the Spaniard in the next three. Entering the second week, he’s followed that up with convincing wins over Tobias Kamke and Ivan Ljubicic in the second and third rounds – both lesser opponents – before beating the Frenchman Richard Gasquet in four sets to advance to the quarterfinals. Next up is a match-up with the Spaniard Feliciano Lopez; if Murray wins, he faces the potential challenge of Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. With each victory, of course, the hype has built: could this be the year?

If not, the British public will settle in for another year of griping and frustration. If he wins, though, Murray will have done more than vindicate himself: he will become the toast of no less than three kingdoms.

[Pic via Flicker - Carine06]

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