Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The boy's a bit special

Some years ago, when I first got into lawn tennis (watching, not playing) I saw a teenager with long, dreadlocked hair sticking out of a baseball cap with huge baggy shorts re-write some of the rules of tennis.

The older generation scoffed at his scruffiness. The girls swooned. The tennis pundits said that a player that works mainly from the baseline would never get anywhere, and besides, he was sporting an upper thigh injury.

Tennis had been dominated by the hard hitters - it was all a matter of whether you could return a 140 mph serve (unlikely) or whether your second serve was better than your opponents, as invariably the serve was built for speed rather than accuracy. The young man, along with a new generation, got players realising that, if you stayed near the baseline, you not only had more chance of getting that serve back, you gave their fore and backhand techniques a workout into the bargain.

The players did not expect that - and Andre Agassi went on to win Wimbledon that year.

Andre played his last Wimbledon this year, bowing out to the world number 2 on Saturday. He has dropped the cap and baggy shorts and now shaves his head as he has hairline. He got a standing ovation. The boy was a bit special.

At long last, we have a British hope (though the Scots are insisting he is theirs. He had only dropped one set on his way to the fourth round....and then he fell to pieces. Why? Was it the heat? Was it the lack of experience? Or was it the fact that, as England had been sent home from the World Cup, too much media attention was directed at him and he crumpled under the pressure?

It was probably a mixture of all three. As much as we would love to blame the media for the woes of British sport, we are as much to blame for buying into it.

Andy Murray is unlikely to change the face of tennis as Agassi did. But he does play a lot better than Henman did at that age, and don't forget he has already won a tournament and better still - has even got Roger Federer (current world no 1) impressed. Another boy I watched in the early days who was a bit special. Murray has the shots, the tactics and can read his opponents tactics quickly, and importantly, early on in the match. Henman is painful to watch. Murray at his best will leave you gasping with delight. Yeah, I'm patriotic, but I prefer to watch talent, rather than seeing Union Flags.

I'm wrong about a lot of things. When I watched Agassi and Federer in their youth, I knew they would go on to greater heights. I never had that feeling with Henman. I do with Murray. The boy's a bit special. A British World number one? Quite likely I say.

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