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

You can follow Cameron on Twitter here.

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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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