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What the papers say

Roger Federer goes up for a serve
by Clive White
Monday 30 June 2014

Are we in a Golden Age of tennis? With the dominance of the Big Four at the moment, some people think so. Today's papers also talk coaches, sugar and bad behaviour.  

Golden Ages in sport are normally only recognisable in retrospect, claims Matthew Engel in the Financial Times – “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. However, he has found an exception in tennis, or to be more specific, Wimbledon.

Of the last 40 Grand Slam tournaments going back to 2004, points out Engel, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have won 37 – which could be boring but for two factors.

“Firstly, there is the wonderful difference in personality and style between them. No novelist could have constructed the cast more cleverly: the silky Switzer, the savage Spaniard, the saturnine Serb and the sulky Scot. Except that Murray has matured so much on and off court that we need a new S. Sagacious? Statesmanlike, even? He could be a future John McEnroe, and I mean that in the nicest way.”

Engel’s favourite is the “savage Spaniard”. “So far at Wimbledon he has been like a great steam locomotive clanking uphill from a cold start. He splutters to the summit but then, whoosh, he hurtles towards the next station at full pelt.”

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The worst kept secret in tennis is out. Andy Murray has admitted he no longer feels any pressure at Wimbledon after becoming the first Briton in 77 years to win the Gentlemen’s Singles last year. Mind you, Tim Henman always claimed he never felt pressure at The Championships. It was the thousands of fans who felt pressure on his behalf.

As Simon Briggs in the Daily Telegraph says: “The first half of Murray’s campaign has run so smoothly that it could have been on rails.” Murray hints at the controversial appointment of Amelie Mauresmo as his coach as a contributing factor, in Briggs’s story.

“It’s great having Amelie around,” Murray said. “She’s a very calm personality but also incredibly supportive, so naturally that helps me. She’s also a great listener, and if I have any concerns, she’ll listen to them and then we’ll work through them in practice.”

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Defending his decision to appoint a female coach – the first Wimbledon champion since Jimmy Connors to do so – Andy Murray mentioned the other day how the former Russian player Olga Morozova had a positive effect on him in his younger days, and of course his mother Judy. In a story in The Guardian by Simon Cambers, Morozova praises Murray to have the courage to appoint a woman. She claimed that the coaching business was a bit of a closed shop.

“Nobody is letting them in,” she says. “There is only a small group of coaches. It’s like some kind of special clan. Li Na’s coach goes to [Maria] Sharapova, coach of Sharapova is going to [Caroline] Wozniacki, coach of Wozniacki goes to...”

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The decision by Maria Sharapova – an athlete and a very famous one at that – to venture into the sweets business could lead to an obvious conflict of interests, as Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph points out. “Quite what the world’s most minted female athlete is doing hawking high-end bonbons, at a time when nutritionists are advocating that we should more than halve our daily sugar intake, is a moot point...

The Sugarpova campaign could yet pitch the Russian, no longer the guileless Siberian swan but a multimillionaire businesswoman with an accent more Miami than Moscow, into choppy waters.

“The consternation aroused by Martina Navratilova in 1982, when the then reigning [Wimbledon] champion wore a top emblazoned with cigarette advertising, serves as an unhappy precedent.”

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While a huge fan of the modern game, Tim Henman laments the continued absence of the serve-and-volleyer in today’s baseline-dominated game, in a Daily Telegraph story by Simon Briggs. He quotes Henman as saying: “Somebody asked me the other day to name the best volleyer in the top 100, and I couldn’t come up with one. Comparing the players today to an [Stefan] Edberg or [Pat] Rafter or even the way I volleyed, there’s no comparison, and that’s amazing.

“My point is that youngsters aren’t taught how to volley now, so there’s that trepidation about moving forward. You just don’t see those skills coming through. And I think that’s sad for the game.”

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Ivan Ljubicic, a former top-10 player, reckons that if there had been no Roger Federer after Pete Sampras people might think more of the player he coaches – Milos Raonic. “Milos is underrated,” he tells Neil Harman in The Times, “people talk about [Kei] Nishikori and [Grigor] Dimitrov and I was wondering why is that?

“Grigor – he has a style like Roger, who dominated the tour in the last decade and people tend to think the next No.1 has to be something similar to what we already know. I wonder if we didn’t have Roger after Sampras and [Andre] Agassi, the people would see Milos a lot better because his game is more like Sampras, obviously not rushing the net, but big serve, big forehand, no rallies, no rhythm and they would maybe appreciate his game more and expect bigger things from him.”

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Money is to blame for some of the bad behaviour seen in tennis generally and at these Championships, claims Alan Little, who runs Wimbledon’s library and has been at every tournament since 1948, in a story in The Guardian by Tom Rowley and Claire Duffin.

“The players used to be better behaved,” said the honorary member of the All England Club, who was awarded an MBE for services to tennis in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. “They tried just as hard and inwardly probably got as annoyed. I think generally players are pretty well behaved here. [But] you get the odd one. The money is obviously the temptation because they need to win. In the old days, people just relaxed and played. It has all tensed up now. They’ve got to win.”

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