Shock Williams defeat cannot hide the sense of missed opportunity

Robson’s Wimbledon crumble could be costly.

Those using the words “Andy Murray” and “destiny” in the same sentence, take note.

For a fleeting moment on Monday afternoon, there was a very real prospect of Britain could be left celebrating the presence of a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in both the men and women’s draws for the first time since 1973.

Instead, and has been the case since Tim Henman faded from prominence in 2005, Andy Murray is once again the sole British representative on the grass at SW19.

 Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Yet, as has been the case throughout the first eight days of the tournament, Murray’s on-court successes were not the story yesterday- not by a long chalk.

Monday belonged to Sabine Lisicki as the 23-year-old made a mockery of those already crowning racquet-handed powerhouse Serena Williams with a sixth Wimbledon crown, as she tore into the defending champion with fearless groundstrokes and nerveless service.

It was perhaps the best grass court spectacle since the 2005 Wimbledon final between the other Williams sister, Venus, and fellow American Lindsay Davenport.

Williams had seemed nailed on to complete a three set triumph after romping through the second set to level the match and then twice holding seemingly decisive breaks in the decider- winning nine consecutive service games in the process.

Lisicki, however, discovered an incredible ability to keep clinging to her decorated opponent’s coattails long enough for Williams’ custom-made white jacket to unravel in spectacular fashion.

The German’s desire and willingness to exchange heavy handed blows with the five-time champion exposed the attitude of those first week challengers who were happy to smile, wave and take a concussive beating on Centre Court.

The sporadic indignation over equal pay for both draws at Grand Slam tournaments, which only heightened through the first week at SW19, will have ebbed away significantly after Lisicki’s courageous display of hitting.

That said, the problem with early shocks- and Wimbledon 2013 has hardly been short of those- is that the latter stages of the tournament can lose significance and crowd interest.

Murray’s continued presence in the tournament ensures that the men’s draw will remain a focal point, but the women’s bracket has an air of mystery as we head into the quarter-finals today.

The loss of Williams at this stage will be greeted with a mixed response. Her defeat- a first in 35 matches- leaves no champion amongst the remaining women in the draw.

An opportunity awaits for someone to make a big name for themselves as each of the eight believe themselves capable of plotting a course deep into the second week.

One of those intrepid explorers could, and perhaps should, have been Britain’s Laura Robson. Robson threw away a chance to serve for the opening set of her meeting with Kaia Kanepi, before also surrendering a lead in the resulting tie-break.

Robson’s defeat- a straight sets loss at the hands of a lower ranked opponent- will surely rankle with the 19-year-old. Not for the first time, she had given herself a major chance on the biggest stage, and fluffed her lines.

The somewhat confused “Didn’t she do well?” attitude of the British media is a little strange. Regardless of her age, and 19 is not as young in the women’s game as it is in the men’s, opportunities of this sort do not come around very often and, having come through a difficult early draw, Robson should have made the quarter-finals.   

The odds were that Robson, even in the event of victory, would be taking her musket on court to face the Williams’ heavy cannon, but that ever-twisting yarn on Centre Court still had several turns to take as Kanepi jigged by the baseline.  By the time the Briton had finished her media responsibilities an hour later, the scale of her missed opportunity was clear to all.

If not simply because Lisiki is tangibly more beatable than Serena, another key theme of this year’s premier grass court tournament has been that the giant killers have all suffered significant hangovers in the aftermath of their great victories.

 Robson against Lisiki in front of a baying Centre Court would have been a tantalising addition to today’s menu and a welcome distraction from Murray’s quarter-final with Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday.

As it is, the British press will sit down to a breakfast of Murray’s championship eggs. We’d better hope they hatch.

Want to find out more about the Data behind the Championships? Find out more here: wimbledoninsights.com

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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