Dream in tatters as Andy Murray exits from Wimbledon
Watching Andy Murray playing tennis yesterday was just like watching Brazil.
Unfortunately, Brazil were losing at the time. The Scot played some inspired tennis in the semi-final of the men's singles at Wimbledon but had the misfortune to meet a man in even more inspired form, Rafa Nadal.
The mighty Spaniard won in straight sets 6-4, 7-6, 6-4, producing more sporting heartbreak for Britain.
And, for the second successive year, Murray has failed to reach a Wimbledon final, drawing scant consolation from having played a full part in a gripping match. The 23-year-old has often said that Nadal is his favourite player to watch, but he'd have preferred a less impressive spectacle yesterday than the one which confronted him across the Centre Court net.
What this means, apart from the plain fact that tomorrow's final will be contested between Nadal and Tomas Berdych, a Czech, is that the long wait for a British winner of the men's singles — the last of whom was Fred Perry in 1936 — must endure for at least 12 months more. But then what's 12 months after 74 years?
The young man from Dunblane had played more impressively than anybody to reach the last four and he was entitled to believe that he could reproduce his marvellous victory over Nadal in the US Open semi-final two years ago.
Their match got under way at about 4pm after Berdych, in the afternoon's other semi-final, had obligingly defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets. Unfortunately, 4pm is also cream tea time at Wimbledon and there were at first some shameful gaps in the corporate seats.
If Murray v Nadal can't tempt them away from their scones, then it's hard to imagine what might.
Still, David Beckham, accompanied by son Brooklyn, managed to get to his seat on time. It was hard to be sure whether it was the sight of Beckham that caused the normally unflappable BBC presenter Sue Barker to lose her cool, or simply her anticipation of the forthcoming match, but she chirped excitedly that Murray and Beckham know one another, having co-starred in a TV commercial to “promote malaria”.
Afterwards Murray rightly pointed out that he had won almost as many points as his opponent. Regrettably, they weren't the right ones.
“But you're not going to be able to play every single point on your terms against the best player in the world, one of the best players ever,” he added ruefully.
Similarly disappointed was the Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil, who had challenged David Cameron to fly the Saltire over 10 Downing Street on Sunday in the event of Murray reaching the final. The Prime Minister, who hoisted the St George's flag in support of the England football team, can now duck this tricky issue. For one more year at least.
PERRY'S WIMBLEDON A VERY DIFFERENT AFFAIR
By Joe Sinclair and Tom Morgan
In 1936, the last time a British man won the Wimbledon singles title, the world was a very different place.
Fred Perry, wielding a wooden racquet, hitting white balls, and wearing full-length trousers, faced German baron Gottfried von Cramm.
It was the third year in a row he won the championship and he crushed the German 6-1 6-1 6-0.
The match took just 40 minutes, making it the shortest final of the century.
Perry's reward was the Renshaw Cup and gold medal.
Whoever wins this year's final will take home £1 million.
Spectators in 1936 paid three guineas (£3.15) for a six-day ticket, the equivalent of 10 shillings and six pence (52.5p) a day.
This year, some tickets for a Centre Court final are being sold for tens of thousands of pounds.
On Sunday, millions will be watching on television, both in the UK and around the world.
In Perry's day, although television had been invented, there was no widespread access.
And there were certainly no internet social networking sites for players to post messages to their fans.
In 1936, Perry was the number one seed and the 27-year-old's reputation was firmly cemented.
Andy Murray, the 23-year-old world number four, now has the shortest odds for a British player since Perry's last victory.
He shares another of Perry's qualities - the killer instinct.
This year's tournament and that of 1936 even shared similar weather, with a scorching first week.
Perry was born in Stockport, the son of a Labour MP. Murray is from Dunblane and his mother is heavily involved in tennis.
While Murray was a talented footballer in his youth, Perry came to tennis via table tennis, at which he was a world champion.
Both their reputations come from their speed around the court, sharp reflexes and physical strength, as well as a fierce determination to win.