Friday, 6 July 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

It's that time of year again. Wimbledon. Two weeks of the finest tennis you'll see anywhere on the planet, at the mercy of the Great British summer and overpriced strawberries and cream. 

I would never say that I was a officiando of the sport, but having grown up not a million miles away from the tournament I've always got wrapped up in the whole fortnight.

It was never hard to be inspired by some of the many greats that walked the hallowed turf on Centre Court: Becker, Williams, McEnroe, Navratilova, Sampras, Graf, Agassi, Evert, Borg and on and on we go. 

So it's no surprise that Britain's obsession with finding its next Wimbledon singles winner, akin to the second coming of a messiah, is about to go into overdrive. Andy Murray, the dour-faced but steely-determined world number 4, is pitted in the men's final against one of the greatest players that has ever walked this earth, Roger Federer

Of course, this is flag-waving tabloid heaven. St George against the Dragon (albeit Murray is Scottish and not English), immovable object against irresistible force, the Dunkirk spirit of backs against the wall stuff. And all in what's been packaged as a glorious year for the UK - the Queen's Diamond Jubilee (Britain's last singles winner, Virginia Wade, was in the Silver Jubilee year); the London Olympics; and the opening of the Shard, the tallest skyscraper in Western Europe and a symbol of renewed national belief.

I may be a bit of a" lapsed Brit" these days, insofar as I haven't lived there for much of the last decade, but none of the symbolism escapes me. But turning to Murray the man, I found it really interesting reading a piece he wrote prior to his semi final. He said how he likes to chat with other athletes, especially individual athletes, because the mindset is similar to that of tennis players. 

Boxing was a particular area of interest, as they are so strong mentally, work extremely hard and ultimately put themselves in danger if they're not focused. But they are also like the rest of us, albeit able to switch it on when it counts. Mike Tyson, for example, has said he has "often walked to the ring petrified he might lose, but as soon as he stepped in there he thought nobody could beat him, he felt invincible."

I guess the reason this has resonated with me is because we forget sometimes how very human great sportsmen and sportswomen are. They can be determined, they can be focused, they can be nervous, they can be angry, they can lose the plot. They can be like you or I. 

There is nothing wrong as such with the "yes, we can" type platitudes but for me realising that people that we put on a pedestal are, deep down, no different to the rest of us is a very big thing for me. Get the mindset, the focus and application right, and you too can go places.

And on Sunday, may the best man called Murray win...

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