We have to protect the broadcasters from themselves
Don’t say it, don’t even think it.
After five sets of high-octane tennis spread over three hours on Centre Court, the last thing Andy Murray needed as he floated off the grass into Wednesday evening, was an audience with the BBC’s ever-present roving reporter Gary Richardson.
“Alex Ferguson was in the Royal Box today watching” Richardson breathed nervously. “He has been known to go into the dressing room after matches and give his players a bit of hairdryer treatment...”
Murray looked at Richardson a little mournfully. No doubt the US Open champion would have taken an hour of agony in one of his famed ice baths rather than face this mandatory two minutes with the BBC’s favourite courtside interviewer. He knew what was coming.
“I don’t know it all” the Scotsman replied to Richardson’s suggestion that he might receive a spot of criticism from his coach Ivan Lendl. “But I don’t see why I should get told off for that, I fought as hard as I could.”
Richardson knew he was playing a stinker. This was his own Wimbledon quarter-final and he was blundering through it with a mix of stuttering double-faults and painfully off-target questions.
The impression from Richardson, indeed the impression from the whole of the BBC team across all platforms, was that there was just no way that Murray could lose over five sets to Fernando Verdasco. To suggest otherwise was illogical. After all, it’s his year, right?
I have a real thing about jinxing anything. In sport, in particular, the British broadcast media have a real penchant for it.
And, a generation of English footballers aside, few sportsmen can understand the nonsensical over-confidence better than Andy Murray.
Every year the tension, hype and confidence grows, every year the disappointment is grander.
Andrew Castle channelled the spirit of 1980s Cliff Richard music videos and gave it his own First4lawyers twist as he took to the BBC’s daily ‘Pundits Pick’ on Tuesday night to roundly put the mockers on Murray.
It is difficult to understand how educated media professionals, scarred by decades of bad experience, can get so smug about British tennis’ few rays of optimism. But year after year, they get smugly ahead of themselves before, inevitably, being forced to eat humble pie three hours down the line.
Bet365 were offering a generous 7/1 on the Verdasco before the first ball was struck and, had I not lost my pin, I would have happily wasted £10 on jinxing the annoyingly handsome 29-year-old- returning Castle’s curse with a ham-handed lob.
But in the same way Murray seemed unable to offer but scant resistance to the Spaniard’s power in the opening two sets, the deluge of comments kept coming.
“The match turning” the BBC’s live text assured us as Murray broke at the start of the second set.
“Some things never change. But this match seems to be” said the Guardian’s own game by game commentary at the same point.
There was nowhere else to turn. I could not bring myself to listen to the Radio 5’s live commentary in case, as was the situation on Monday, they broke off from a crucial point of the match to talk about Pat Cash’s potential appearance on the senior tour later this year.
I haven’t been so annoyed since I had to explain to a then paramour that the Argentinean coverage of Chelsea’s 2010 Champions League exit at the hands of Inter Milan did not mean that Didier Drogba would be playing in goal.
So, Twitter’s warm embrace it was. Even in the midst of a British tennis storm, the limited shelter from the hype was preferable.
There is something strangely relaxing about watching a match through the eyes Twitter. There are no gut-wrenching nerves every time a sliced backhand comes within a foot of the net, nor panic as a mistimed lob lands just on the baseline.
Points and games are just numbers to be won and lost. Non-tennis fans rehash clichéd thoughts about Andy Murray’s nationality. The Times’ Neil Harman writes “Jeu decisif” every five minutes. Actual score updates are few and far between.
By the time I was on the train home, however, things had taken a turn for the worse. The former Chelsea footballer Jody Morris had taken to cockney rhyming slang (“This Verdasco puts soooo much Dusty Bin on his forehand!!!”) and Murray’s former coach Brad Gilbert- still highly respected after his work with Andre Agassi in the 90s- had taken his penchant giving players incomprehensible nicknames to new levels; (“Are you kidding me Muzzard in big trouble vs a very hot Tabasco”).
When Murray finally broke for 6-5 in the decider, the sense of relief was awesome. Unfortunately, the crowing sense of confidence was not far behind.
Destiny, fate, logic. The sporting media will not take yesterday’s near-miss as a warning. The reality is that should Murray find a way into Sunday’s final, the prospect of beating Novak Djokovic over five sets to end of one of British sport’s biggest hoodoos would be like winning a Grand Slam in itself.
The chances are that you might just have to remind them of that fact. I’m off to lay a grand on Jerzy Janowicz to win the whole thing.