The most famous saga of waiting for victory in professional sports belongs to the Chicago Cubs and their legions of long-suffering followers. The patient, or rather masochistic, Windy City faithful have now waited more than a century for a World Series title. Yet it's one thing to have a large city stick around and bide its time waiting for victory but an altogether different and more intense matter when an entire nation has endured an extended period of futility and pins its hopes on one person.
Such is the case with Great Britain in regards to men's tennis. Britannia has been tarrying since 1936 to lay claim to a Grand Slam champion - that is the year when Fred Perry, an all-time great, completed a remarkable stretch of eight Slam titles over a four year period. But this Era of Unattainability was supposed to come to a decisive halt this year in the person of Andy Murray, the world #2 and the man many thought would be the last man standing next Sunday in Gotham as the US Open champion.
But Britain's hopes came crashing down once again, this time prematurely in the fourth round on yet another precipitation-free day in New York during this unusually dry US Open. The man who did him in was six foot-six inch Marin Cilic from Croatia. Cilic executed a game plan with brutal precision and left Murray looking weak and exhausted throughout the 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 demolition of the talented Scot. Murray did seem to be nursing a sore wrist but he did not cite that as a reason for his loss.
Though Murray stated in the press conference afterward that he will still look upon this year as overall a very positive one as he has attained the number two ranking (however dubiously as Nadal fell from the top due to injuries, aiding the ascension of others in the rankings) and claimed several titles, it really seems like a disingenuous claim by the mercurial and moody twenty two year old.
When one considers the fact that after reaching the US Open final last year - losing to Federer after defeating Nadal in the semifinals - Murray failed to surpass, let alone duplicate, that accomplishment this season in any of the Slams, the only sure result from this tough defeat today will be a very long and painful four month period of analysis and introspection until January and his next opportunity for Slam success in Australia.
There's no question that Murray has all the tools and is the owner of one of the sharpest strategic minds in the sport. But he is still prone to periods of seeming detachment and appears slow to adapt to the rhythm of a match. Stubbornness is a necessary tool for all athletes but only up to a point. Murray would be well advised to augment his extraordinary defensive and reverse-direction techniques with more power and the willingness to shift tactics when falling behind. It'd still be a surprise if Murray isn't a Slam champion in the near future.
While Murray's defeat was most definitely a surprise to any seasoned observer, it should not have come as a total shock. Cilic, though he won't turn 21 until later this month, has reached the fourth round of all the Grand Slam events - not an insignificant accomplishment for someone so young. And he is armed with a lethal all court game and when he is relaxed, as he was in the second and third sets against Murray, there are not many more dangerous players on tour.
In addition to possessing natural talent and that advantage that can't be taught - height - Cilic was also wise to hire Bob Brett as his coach. The Australian mentor has worked with two other very tall and talented players in the past - Boris Becker and that former great Croatian player, Goran Ivanisevic.
Next up for Cilic will be Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentine is the same height as Cilic and hits the ball with even greater force. If both of these players are on their game, their Thursday quarterfinal encounter should be riveting.
ESPN's Television Coverage Gets Worse
ESPN continued to leave fans yearning for the USA Network and their decades of carrying the US Open. Most egregious of the Bristol Behemoth's sins is their insistence on showing their talking heads - both McEnroes, Chris Fowler, Brad Gilbert, Darren Cahill, Bud Collins, Mary Joe Fernandez, Pam Shriver, etc - rather than the matches. At the start of their telecast this evening, the network chose chat over tennis - while waiting for the Serena Williams match to commence, the network could easily have shown the very exciting Jo Tsonga vs. Fernando Gonzalez encounter. But no, we had to be first told and shown, self-promoting John McEnroe's banter and play with Novak Djokovic from the night before. Granted, it was fun to see Djokovic act like his old self again but why not have these little features in between matches?
Perhaps even more an affront to the knowledgeable tennis fans is the insipid commentary offered by on-site host Hannah Storm. Following Murray's defeat at the hands of Cilic, Storm claimed that since Cilic had such a hard time defeating American wild card Jesse Levine earlier in the tournament, Murray should have easily beaten Cilic. Tennis, like most sports, is not akin to the associative property in mathematics - jut because player A barely defeats an inferior player B doesn't necessarily translate to player C having an easy time with A ... perhaps I have the wrong property but the point is made.