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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.