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Anyone but Murray? Not today.

ShanghaiMasters4 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.

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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.

ShanghaiMasters6There 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.


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Welcome, Bill. It's good to see you here. Your guest author rights are still valid and I hope you will contribute something again one day.

I hesitated to post about tennis; something I know so little about (though political opponents might think that's business as usual). I would like to think you are right about English rejoicing (let's face it, Wayne Rooney does the nation little credit either) but I fear Murray is so obnoxious you may be surprised.

Bill Primrose

I enjoyed and understand your article on tennis. We've always had a soft spot for Federer, who is so polished both on and off the court. I don't want to make any excuses for Andy - I agree he is not as "public friendly" as he could or should be, although he now salutes the four sides of the court after a victory, and signs lots of autographs. I think he is genuinely shy, but hopefully he will in time get over this and be a better communicator. He is a prickly individual, and while this seems to serve him well on court (as it did for McEnroe too) it has not given his coaching relationships any longevity - he's had at least four already, and is presently "coachless". On the positive side, he still wears RBS on his sleeve as he recognised that the Bank had provided him with invaluable support when he was making his way in the game, and volunteered to take a cut in sponsorship payments to help RBS out - he could easily have turned his back on them and made more money. He's not in it for money - he is in it to win championships and to be the best. We Scots will relate to that and I have no doubt that the English will rejoice in having a British winner of a Grand Slam when it happens.


There is a history with such players - Leighton Hewitt is another - who are so into other aspects than the game. They have some brilliance but it goes sour under the weight of the other c*** they bring down on themselves.

Federer was a champ who is in his twilight months now. Happened to Sampras, happens to all. He's still a champ in many eyes.

John Ballantrae

Oops - typo. The last sentence should read: I wonder how he was affected by it.

ps I'm glad you're back blogging.

John Ballantrae

Dear Mr. P:
You make good points about Andy's miserable nature and Roger's pleasure in living. I recently discovered something about Andy's past that is interesting, I think. If you remember the Dunblane Massacre - the multiple murder-suicide at the Scottish Primary school in 1996, Andy was a pupil at that school and was in class on the day of the massacre. I wonder how we has affected by it.

Richard B

I'm afraid I have a bit of history with the 'anyone but Murray' theme. I have nothing against the Scots, but Murray makes me think I do. What is it with sportsmen that lets them think they can be obnoxious and the rest of us will excuse it as 'talent'? It's not as if they are doing something worthwhile for humanity that lets us put that in the balance against their less desirable qualities (Beethoven's bad temper against nine symphonies, for example). They are playing a game, for goodness' sake. They are earning a living doing things that the rest of us do for pleasure. There is no reason why a professional sportsman should not have a cheerful and sunny smile stitched on his face all the time, be polite to those who pay to see him, and thank God every day for his good fortune. Look at Federer; look at Nadal - angry with themselves when they underperform, perhaps, but sweetness and light to the rest of us who pay for them to play games for us. Even Macenroe was good to people off-court. I think you have it right when you say Murray is a misanthrope. He just doesn't like people. Which means I don't have to like him.

I like the blog, by the way; one of my daily reads, but I think this is my first comment.

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