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Murray can still teach Miliband a thing or two



What induced the tennis apartheid nightmare that woke me, I cannot say for sure. It might have been watching Monday night's BBC2 documentary about the MCC's rancid collusion with the South African government over the Basil D'Oliveira affair in 1968. Or it might have been the memory of a certain Wimbledon champion mentioning, in another documentary, that after winning last year's US Open, he dreamed that he had lost.

Anyway, there we all are enjoying that relaxing last game, and as Novak Djokovic stuffs his backhand into the net, umpire Mohamed Lahyani intones: "Code violation. British passport. Forfeit Murray. Game, set, match and championship Djokovic."

At this, the camera pans across the Royal Box to find Alex Salmond fashioning his saltire into a noose while the Henman parents lead the Duke of Kent and a maniacally grinning Victoria Beckham in a Conga towards the player's box, where Judy Murray is attempting congress with a life-size cardboard cut-out of Feliciano Lopez.

When a thing is too surreal for the conscious mind to compute, the subconscious has a mischievous habit of filling the void with alternate versions. It is three days since it happened, but it will be years before the cloud of disbelief lifts. In the meantime, the nation's collective thoughts turn to how to reward the man known to his entourage as Muzzard for what a 27th viewing of that closing game confirms he did in fact achieve.

It is with distaste bordering on nausea that we note the widespread cry, from the prime minister upwards, for him to be knighted. This notion is demeaning to the title itself. It is unthinkable to palm off the bearer of the bizarre title "British Wimbledon men's singles champion" with an honour anyone can have by paying £100,000 for a bowl of tagliatelle al pomodoro at a No 10 kitchen supper. To place Andy Murray on the same honorific rung as Cliff Richard, on whose own place in Centre Court folklore it would be indecent to dwell, would be a disgrace.

Anyone who thinks a life peerage would do the trick, meanwhile, is reminded that the dark history of the tennis-honours interface extends far beyond the impromptu rain-delay gig for which Sir Cliff should have stood trial in The Hague.

There was a time when a tennis player could pick up a barony by donating to Labour funds during a game with Tony Blair and his doubles partner Lord Levy. Could there be a more grotesque insult to Murray than linking him by title with those expertly grifted on Levy's Totteridge court?

What Murray did on Sunday calls for no less than the newly created Dukedom of Dunblane. Nothing else pays adequate tribute to his courage and strength of mind in resisting the Serb. It is virtually impossible to imagine his torment as Djokovic recovered from 0-2 in the third to lead it 4-2, let alone facing four break points when serving for the title. But if anyone can empathise, it is surely Ed Miliband. In accord with emergency legislation passed lately, the Newspaper Columnists (Mandatory Andy Murray Analogies) Act, I am obliged to state that, in grand slam politics as well as tennis, a dramatic shift in momentum can lethally paralyse the player who had appeared to be coasting to victory.

A few months ago, at the midway point of his five-year championship match with Cameron, Labour's double-digit poll lead suggested that Miliband was the equivalent of a set and a break up. He may have done little to earn it, having depended more on unforced errors (the 2012 Budget, the Tories' internecine warring over Europe and gay marriage, etc.) than any brilliance of his own. But avoiding mistakes and waiting for the opponent to misfire, much like the more passive pre-Lendl Muzzard, looked likely to be enough. No longer.

Any sudden momentum shift is a brutal affront to self-belief. The crowd, be it on Centre Court or the back benches, communicates its anxiety. The memories of Devon Loch-style calamities (Murray's loss to Djokovic in Shanghai last year after holding two match points; Neil Kinnock's shock defeat to John Major in 1992) flood the brain. The nerves become scrambled and the thinking foggy. It takes inhuman resilience to master the terror.

As he faces the triple whammy of a seemingly recovering economy, an opponent  rediscovering his sure touch, and his battle of wills with the trade unions, it will be intriguing to see whether Miliband can emulate Murray.

From his speech on reforming Labour's relationship, Miliband clearly understands that the game has changed; and that you seldom win at the highest level, as Lendl schooled Murray, by playing not to lose. If a nebulous expectation of a Tory victory in 2015 is beginning to take hold, the classic tennis finals of recent years counsel that the pendulum tends to keep swinging.

In last week's resignation letter, Tom Watson referred to his "Buddha-like" calm under fire. That's splendid, though during Wimbledon it was Djokovic who visited the Buddhist temple and did the meditating. Even the chanting of 'oms' paradoxically paired with greater aggression will not be enough for Miliband. He must rely on a third party (Ukip) weakening his rival, and this seamlessly brings us to the other formal tribute necessitated by Sunday's triumph.

While we look forward to the Duke of Dumblane trumping Roger Federer's gleaming white jackets by arriving on Centre Court draped in ermine and carrying his coronet, we must also look back to the Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro.

Whether Muzzard would have won had Delpo not exhausted Djokovic over four and half hours of murderously gruelling tennis in last Friday's semifinal is anyone's guess. But his huge contribution cannot be overlooked, and it behoves the British government to reward it by handing over the Falkland Islands to Argentina forthwith.

The Independent


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