NEW YORK – The Great Bright Hope of Great Britain came, saw and was conquered, and will have to wait another year to maybe break the Curse of Fred Perry.
No Brit has won the tennis championship of the United States (or Wimbledon) since the dashing Limey, Perry, took both those prized majors in 1936.
Seventy-three years have passed — no cigar — although the current Great Bright Hope – Scotsman Andy Murray — has risen to No. 2 behind Roger Federer. He had been a Wimbledon semifinalist in July, and is fond of the mean blue slabs of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on which the US Open is conducted.
Murray was a finalist to the champ, Federer, a year ago, and seemed ready to ascend the throne and let the late Perry rest in peace. Holding a career 6-3 edge over Federer, Andy was picked by a number of so-called know-it-alls. Of course I was one of them, and as shocked as Murray himself when a 6-foot-6 inch Croat named Marin Cilic fell on him like a redwood, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, in a little over two hours. Pronounced “Chill-itch,” Marin gave Andy a chill and a losing itch.
Murray was supposed to be the Loch Ness Monster of tennis, but Cilic, a 20-year-old out of Zagreb made him seem a minnow out of his depth. Ranked No. 13, Cilic, who was 0-3 against Murray seemed a little startled himself. But having wiped out the US Davis Cup team on behalf of Croatia a few weeks ago, he seemed bubbly with confidence, and glad he caught Murray on an off day in the fourth round.
Murray had one thing right yesterday: “I played poorly.” He was as pale as the sky, looked uncomfortable and seemed as blue as the court underfoot.
He also had a sore left wrist, and resembled a man in a bad dream, trying to escape into a safe house, but unable to discover the right door. “I just couldn’t find my way into games. He was dominating a lot of points, so it was difficult to get into it. I think one of the good things about me was finding ways to get back into matches mentally, thinking strong,” he shrugged. Not yesterday.
A pity because he’s so good to watch, a player of finesse in the way he uses angles and spins, retrieves and usually serves very well.
But as the GBH he carries a lot of pressure, too, in the wishes of a land where tennis began but has produced few champions. A London press corps follows closely, documenting Andy’s every sneeze and misstep. Probably Big Ben’s chimes sounded mournful this morning.
British tennis administraters have poured millions into trying to find young men and women who have a way with a racket. Nothing much truly positive has happened since Virginia Wade became the Wimbledon champion in 1977. It’s a mystery: Why can’t the country of the birth of tennis produce any players? London Fats (aka King Henry VIII) relished tennis and would have sent inept tennis officials to the chopping block.
The last GBH, Tim Henman, was world class, made it to four Wimbledon semifinals between 1998 and 2002 – but couldn’t deliver a title for the suffering masses of the British Isles.
Fred Perry, who died in 1995, wouldn’t like being associated with a curse. Debonair and good company, he worried about British tennis but couldn’t have imagined the barren years since his reign. “I hope I live to see a British man winning Wimbledon,” he said, but it didn’t happen.
Cilic goes on to his first major quarter-final face another 6-6 blaster, Juan Martine Del Potro, the best export from Argentina since Hall of Famer Guillermo Vilas.
Murray goes home.
Young, 22, swift, 6-feet-3 and gifted, Andy may yet take Perry off the historic hook. He’s done all right, having made more than $ 6 million in prize money, plus millions more in endorsement.
Although Fred Perry carried his own bags in that amateur era, Murray travels amid a platoon of coaches, trainers, girl friend, press agents, perhaps even soothsayers.
But yesterday all the kings horses and all the king’s men could not put the Great Bright Hope together again.