Are 76 years of hurt about to end this weekend? Britain finally has a male finalist at Wimbledon and the nation is poised to celebrate a winner for the first time since 1936. Can all those years of promise be fulfilled? We'll find out later today, as Jonny Marray, alongside Denmark's Freddie Nielsen, take part in the doubles final!
Sunday sees miserable Scot Andrew Murray, playing some Swiss bloke in the singles final. Typical eh? You wait three quarters of a century for one men's finalist and two come along at once! There is official 'Murray-mania' in the UK this weekend, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that much of that mania consists of negative vibes. If you tune into any British radio station, read any internet forum or sports publication, there is always a large swell of animosity towards the man who is arguably the greatest tennis player ever to come from the UK. This will seem alien to non-Brits because we do have a curious phenomenon on these shores, for not always backing our top talent. Let's make no mistake though; the majority of British people (both English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish) WILL be supporting Murray in the final, without question.
But there is undeniably a large minority who dislike Andy Murray so intensely as a person, that they would prefer Federer to win. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, he is one of the most sour-faced, dull, miserable, surly and charmless people that have ever picked up a tennis racquet. Even his greatest supporters would struggle to deny that. When he first came to the public's attention as a top player, he was dreadful in front of the camera; always trying to get away from interviews as quickly as possible and saying as little of interest as he could. Worst of all, he wouldn't even attempt to hide his displeasure at his valuable time being taken up. In recent years, you can see he's had media training and advisers have clearly told him to be nicer to the press. You still can barely get anything out of him other than standard cliches in a muffled, monotone, drone but at least he attempts to engage the public a little more.
Basically, Andy Murray comes across as someone you wouldn't want to have a pint with down the pub and this, above anything else, is considered a cardinal sin in Britain. You can get away with almost anything in this country, so long as you are seen as being a decent bloke you can have a drink with. Look at our last great tennis star, Tim Henman. He never reached a Grand Slam final, just a few semis at Wimbledon. Yet the nation loves him in a way that Murray will never experience, even if he wins Wimbledon for 10 years straight. It comes back to one simple reason - personality. Henman is everything Murray is not; charming, affable, politely spoken, inoffensive, always positive, smiley - and English.
Which brings me onto reason number two. Despite what many non-Brits might think, the malice shown towards Murray has little to do with the fact he's Scottish. The average Englishman couldn't care less where Murray is from. We love Welshmen like footballer Ryan Giggs (even though he's a dirty love rat). We love Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy. And we love Scottish Olympic gold medal cyclist Chris Hoy. But it was Andy Murray himself who brought up the issue of Anglo-Celt rivalry, which turned so many English people against him. Back in 2006, Murray famously responded to an interview question about the football world cup by saying 'I'll be supporting anyone but England'. He was also reported to have worn a Paraguay shirt on the day England played them. This was picked up by national tabloid newspapers and made to look like Murray was having a dig at England, which infuriated millions of people. Many cited him as 'ungrateful' to the English because he was funded by the English Lawn Tennis Association. The actual comments were taken out of context, as Murray was just responding in a jovial manner to some light-hearted teasing from Tim Henman (who was being interviewed jointly) and the Daily Mail's Des Kelly, who brought up the fact that Scotland hadn't even qualified for the world cup. And Murray denies that he ever wore a Paraguay shirt. So it has been blown out of proportion but unfortunately, these important details are not known or over-looked, whilst the angry headlines have stuck indelibly in the mind of the public and are just another stick to beat him with.
However you view Andy as a person (and I'll admit that I don't like him either) you cannot deny his outstanding talent as a sportsman. And if you do (and reading some betting forums, there are people who slate his tennis too) then I'm sorry but you know nothing about tennis. As an Englishman and a Brit, I'll be very pleased if Murray wins Wimbledon. It's not his job to be jolly and witty and charismatic. As someone on my Twitter timeline said yesterday "Eddie the Eagle Edwards was always laughing like a loony and it never did him any good!" Eddie is always cited as the typical example of the British public loving a loser, as long as he was a nice bloke who tried his best. He was a laughing stock as an obscure ski-jumper at the Olympics but even he will be loved by more people than our greatest ever player of one of the world's most popular sports. If Murray does win Wimbledon, I'm sure many people will start to come round (as if one extra win will suddenly make a difference) though then he'll start to gain a new set of haters - people who will be waiting for him to fall off the pedestal and start losing, so they can gleefully bash him. It's what we tend to do in this country - build 'em up then knock 'em down. We don't hate winners, we just hate winners who aren't humble and who maybe wouldn't have a drink with us down the local. Go figure!
However, whether I'll be truly celebrating his victory will depend entirely on whether he has cost me a red or gained me a green! Trading wise, if there is any value at SP, it's all on Murray. Federer is sub-1.5 as I type, which looks pretty ridiculous considering the head to head (9-7 Murray). However, a number of things are in the Swiss's favour. Firstly, he doesn't have the weight of expectation. He's been there and done it many times before and Murray has lost 3 slam finals already, without even picking up a set. Federer has already beaten him in a final this year, in Dubai, in straight sets. So psychologically, there's no doubt where the pressure lies. Also, if the roof comes on (which it looks like it will judging from the weather forecast) then Federer is in his element. He is the best indoor player in the world and although Murray is good indoors, he's better outdoors because the slower conditions allow him to chase down more balls. Indoors, Federer will be more able to finish points quickly with his offensive tennis and unless Murray can up his aggression too, he'll find it hard to live with Roger with the form he is showing - he'll be world number one again if he wins.
So whilst 1.5 looks an attractive lay, I won't be touching it. I expect the roof to be on, I expect Federer to come out hard and fast as he always does and I expect him to take the first set. He may be worth a lay after that, as Murray will surely take at least one set but he will need to play his best ever tennis to win on Sunday. It's possible that might happen but I just think with the roof on, it's a step too far. If by some miracle the rain stays away, then we are talking a whole new ball game...............but you are probably better off backing Jonny Marray to win Wimbledon!
NB: Women's final - Radwanska is my favourite player (the most all-round talented player in women's tennis) but it's Williams all the way. That is all. Hope I'm wrong!