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.

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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.