Mrs P. and I had a pleasant time at the Qi Zhong Tennis Center today. On a beautfully sunny afternoon, we watched Melzer and Paes narrowly defeat Fyrtenberg and Matki in the final of the Shanghai Rolex Masters doubles competition.
Then in the late afternoon/early evening, we watched Andy Murray comfortably take the mens' singles title of the tournament in straight sets. It was odd, so far from the childish nationalisms that poison our home islands to hear the Chinese announcers introduce Murray as "from Great Britain" in English, but as "an Englishman" in Chinese, while his fans all displayed the Saltire. The only Union Flag on display was behind his personal entourage. Now he's at a level to be in line for the big sponsorship deals that come with popularity, it seems his camp would like the English on his side.
I am not of the "anyone but Murray persuasion" because of his supposed anti-Englishness. I was rooting for Federer today for other reasons. I find it irritating that someone so blessed with talent as Murray appears neither to appreciate nor enjoy it. He makes angry, whiney noises as he plays; he changes rackets or fiddles with his shoes after every mistake, as if there must obviously be an external cause. He scowls at the ball boys and girls (aspiring players themselves no doubt); gesturing to them peremptorily in marked contrast to the smiles and polite nods of other players. He never seems pleased to see anyone, in fact. I don't think he's so much anti-English as generally misanthropic. Compare and contrast all that with the charming smiles and easy manners of Federer; a man whose success no-one resents or envies because he is as gracious off the court as he is graceful on it.
Pressed by the Chinese master of ceremonies to explain why he never smiles, Murray played for sympathy and said "I'm shy." Then, adding "...but I will try hard for you...," he put on a sickly Gordon Brown grimace. At that moment I thought that, if I were the marketing director of Rolex, I would be hoping Murray will never wear in public the watch I had just presented to him. In fact, I would be hoping he would agree to endorse some competitor's product.
There is no denying that Murray played the better tennis today, for all that the crowd cheered his opponent's every good stroke, while politely clapping his. Federer had played a match yesterday while Murray rested (one imagines in a darkened room with a duvet over his head). At the ripe old age of 29, Federer seemed tired and rather resigned in the face of the Murray onslaught. There were flashes of brilliance and some really quite extraordinary rallies (men's tennis is much improved from the boring era of grunts and aces when I tired of it) but for the most part he seemed almost ready to lose.
Federer is one of the greats of tennis and I am glad to have seen him "live" (and experienced the warmth he generates in his fans). There was a fin de siecle feel to it all though.
The game was over all too soon and we were watching the crowd warm more to Federer as he ventured a few words of Chinese, while laughing unsympathetically at Murray's embarrassing claim to be shy. If you want those sponsorship millions, Andy, you had best apply the discipline of your sports training to developing (or faking) some social skills. Otherwise, no matter how many tournaments you win, you will always be a loser.