PRIDE of Scotland Andy Murray scared the pigeons off court this evening and almost did much the same to Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
But fading light halted the match at 8.52pm after a late rally by his opponent. Murray mania rolls on into tomorrow afternoon when Andy will resume two sets to one up. If he prevails, American No 3 seed Andy Roddick awaits on Saturday.
Fiery Scottish teenagers aside, events in SW19 so far this year have been overshadowed by the World Cup. It’s a tale of two sports, and the boys with the big ball are winning. Even Boris Becker has shunned his second home to follow the football for German TV.
BBC TV Wimbledon commentator Andrew Castle says British tennis could do with serving up a working class hero like Wayne Rooney.
Despite the efforts of the sport’s governing body, tennis is still seen as a largely middle class game. Could a boy from Manchester or Liverpool with Rooney’s background change all that?
“Yes, I can see a Rooney playing tennis one day,” predicts former British number one Andrew, 42, who played at Wimbledon several times and got no further than the second round. “But it’s going to take luck,” he told me this afternoon.
“To get a Wayne Rooney into tennis, you need to get a tennis racket into their hands before they get identified, taken and helped in other sports. And that is always going to be very difficult for tennis.
“Our national sport is football and a large percentage of the best athletes go into football and rugby or cricket. These are school sports and this is what is played.”
Andrew is an increasingly respected voice in the BBC commentary box, working alongside the likes of legends like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
The Surrey-born presenter moved to Taunton when he was a boy. His family ran a chip shop and he lived in a council house. By the age of 12 he was national junior champion. Five years later he moved to America on a tennis scholarship to progress his court career.
Now better known by millions as a GMTV host, he played again at Wimbledon last week before the championships began – but that was just for fun. He readily admits he was never quite good enough to become a star player.
Murray is different. “Being a role model at 19 and somebody who is going to be a leader in British tennis for the next few years is not an easy situation for him to find himself in. A year ago he was nobody as far as the public were concerned. They didn’t know who he was. Now he’s got a lot of things to deal with. It just takes a bit of judgement.”
Like many in the game, Andrew hopes Murray can be a trail blazer for youngsters who currently have posters of Man Utd star Rooney on their walls. “But it takes unbelievably committed parents and a fierce determination to make it happen. To become a professional player in your teenage years costs you tens of thousands of pounds plus a lot of sacrifice and commitment.
“In football everything is sorted out in this country. The facilities are there for you and so are the coaches.”
Andrew’s daughters Georgina, 13, and Claudia, 11, play tennis at school. But he wouldn’t encourage them to follow his footsteps into the professional game. “For a start, it’s too late at their age, and that in itself tells you a lot.” The relentless schedule of worldwide travel, hotels and separation from family and friends is also not what many parents would want to put their children through.
For every down-to-earth personality like 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, still just 19, there are others who don’t fare so well. “You do see some players in their later twenties who are not so well adjusted as they might be.”
Stockport-born Fred Perry was the last British man to win Wimbledon back in 1936 – his third consecutive victory at the All England Club. Will it take a Murray or another youngster from the wrong side of the tracks to win it again? The prize is one of the biggest in sport.
Despite having been here many times, Andrew still gets a thrill every time he walks through the gates.“It’s like a cathedral – and an awesome sporting arena. When players step on Centre Court for the first time, you can see them literally taking a sharp intake of breath.”
That’s not to say eyes won’t be diverted towards England’s World Cup clash with Portugal on Saturday afternoon. Andrew’s not the only English TV tennis commentator trying to swap shifts with Aussie colleagues.
And what if Wimbledon’s ultimate nightmare comes to pass? The men’s final is a week on Sunday, just hours before a World Cup Final which might feature Rooney and co. A rain delayed start in SW19 could create a mighty sporting conflict.
“The referee Andrew Jarrett would cancel the tennis final, I’m sure,” laughs Mr Castle. “There’s no way we could allow a clash.”
Besides, he’s got inside information from defending champion Roger Federer. Not for nothing is he known as the Fed Express, sweeping opponents like Tim Henman out of his path to glory in 85 minutes. Andrew was at a dinner recently with the world number one, who asked him what time the football final kicked off. “When I told him it was 7pm, he replied, ‘Oh, that’s OK…’”