LONDON – If you were somewhere near the Atlantic and heard a horrendous, sound-barrier-breaking noise yesterday about noon, don’t be alarmed.
It was merely the last groan raised throughout Great Britain as the last of the Brits at Wimbledon hit the last shot and lasted no longer in the oldest lasting tournament.
That was a Scottish lad named Andrew Baron Murray who stalled in the semifinals for a second straight year, and the long-lasting Curse of Fred Perry continues for a 75th year. Way back in the age of schoolboys wearing knickers and Model A Fords with rumble seats, a Brit named Fred Perry won the singles championship. He did it in 1934-35-36. None of his countrymen has imitated Fred since.
It’s not so bad for the women. Only 33 years since a local, Virginia Wade, won in 1977. But the men get most of the attention although should they with a 0-75 record?
“We know British tennis is a joke to a lot of people,” says Murray. “We’re used to it.” Murray played splendidly for 2 hours-22 minutes yesterday, but would appreciate Sartre’s remark: “The difficulty, with sports is that the other team shows up.”
Showing up was none other than the planetary No. 1, Rafa Nadal, who had to hustle to get rid of last man Murray, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. And he did hustle, at times the brilliant snake charmer making the balls act like serpents – curling, slithering, striking when and where least expected. They spin brutally, fast-or-tantalizingly slowly, seldom straightening up.
Rafa knows his way around Centre Court, having stunned Roger Federer in the 2008 final. However, he was lagging at 2-4 in the third set – until he realized it and swept the last four games to arrange tomorrow’s title bout against the startling Czech, swift long-legged Tomas Berdych.
Murray could have staved off the match point except that his forehand blow was suspect. As the ball went past Nadal, you could imagine him paraphrasing Lady Macbeth with “Out damned ball!’ It was out, the last poke for the last man, and that horrid noise, the groans of the 14,971 sufferers filling the playroom, headed out tosea. You may have heard them.
“Those groans are the worst to hear,” says ex-champ Virginia Wade. “ You miss a shot on Centre Court, and the groans go right through you because they’re backing you, and want you to win.”
Some day the Brits will raise a Wimbledon-capturing male. Maybe even the crinkly-haired Murray, with his marvelous shotmaking, who wants it more than Caesar wanted Cleopatra.
It makes you wonder what the Brits way out in the Great Beyond think about this calamity of their homeland.
I can imagine Fred Perry himself pulling for Murray, muttering, “I hate a Curse being named for me. I want Murray to make it and forget all about 1936. The courtly Bunny Austin (the pioneer of male shorts at Wimbledon) would say, “Fred, I agree. I’m kind of attached to the Curse because I was the last Brit to attain the final. The great Don Budge beat me fast.”
Florence Nightingale might stroll over and sympathize. “I wish I could go back and stop the bleeding of our country’s tennis fanatics.”
But Major Walter Wingfield, who devised present-day tennis, would growl, “If I had known how the game would shut out us Brits, I wouldn’t have invented the damned pastime.”
The Duke of Wellington and Admiral Horatio Nelson would agree. “Why don’t we rear more men who could beat Napoleon at Waterloo like mine did.”
“Right you are, old boy,” applauds Nelson. If I could lead them at Trafalgar again, I’d show them how to develop stiff upper lips.
“Say, Henry Stanley,” Nelson has seen a pal. “If you could find Livingstone, I’m sure you would be able to dig up some tennis players for our side. What about Henry V? Shakespeare wrote that he beat the Dauphin of France at tennis, and made the French surrender at Agincourt.”
Charles Dickens reminds them, “I wrote a book that could apply here: ‘Great Expectations.’ “
Winston Churchill could be heard chuckling, “Forget about tennis and Wimbledon. Blood, sweat and tears are all that’s needed – but first a cigar and brandy.”
Am I dreaming? Will Britain ever escape its slump? I hope so. I keep telling folks here about the Curse of Babe Ruth that finally faded after 86 years. It could happen to the Curse of Fred Perry, too. Just keep saying, “Wait Until Next Year!”