Friday, June 24, 2005

Bark: SW19

Anyone familiar with London postcodes will know that's the postcode of a certain London town hosting a particularly famous tennis tournament at the moment.

We Scots don't have much to crow about when it comes to sport (rubbish Football, Rugby and Cricket teams), but by God, when we are good at something, we like to make the most of it. Even if it's being Elephant Polo World Champions.

Thankfully, our new Scottish hero plays a much more recognisable sport - at the aforementioned tournament. Andy Murray is an 18 year old from a small town in Scotland called Dunblane, a town not unfamiliar for making the news, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. So for Andy Murray (who was I believe was in the school at the time of the shootings) to turn out to be the best thing to hit British Tennis since Tim Henman is not only great for British sport in general, but great for Dunblane, too.

What surprised me was the attitude he has to playing. He seems to have an incredible amount of self-belief. The guy's a born winner (most unscottish, I have to say), it's like the thought of losing never entered his mind when he was on court. Frankly, that's staggering when you look at the opponent he beat yesterday - Radek Stepanek. 14th Seed for the tournament, 13th in the World Rankings, and Murray had only played 5 professional ATP tour matches before that one, and is 312th in the World! It was shocking (in a pleasant way, well, at least for a fellow Scot) to see Murray give him absolutely no fear, just enough respect, and simply put Stepanek away like *he* was 312th in the World. Even if Stepanek had an off-day (which he surely did), Murray just didn't allow him to play, and Stepanek never really looked like he'd have Murray in trouble. It was a dumbfounding result - beating someone 300 places above you in the World Rankings, in straight sets, and making the guy look completely ordinary.

I watched the last two sets live when I got home from work, and you can't help but be impressed. I'm no tennis expert, but just by looking at the way he plays, his movement and shot selection, the boy has real class. Murray really knows how to play the crowd as well - though that might not be such a good thing in the long term.

I don't expect him to beat Nalbandian, and give the guy credit, neither does Murray. Even so, if I were Nalbandian, I'd be a bit worried on Saturday afternoon - if this match is on Centre Court, with a partisan crowd behind him, if he gets the first set under his belt, you never know how well Murray will play. The exciting thing is that this is totally uncharted territory - a bit like when Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title in '85 - if you want to be a champion, you've got to beat the big boys, and playing someone in the top 10 so early in your career can only be a good thing. If Murray can give Nalbandian a good run for his money, it really bodes well for the future. If he beats him, well. Suffice to say, the press will go NUTS.

Myself, I don't expect Murray's World Ranking to stay in the hundreds for very long...
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