PPH-Hewitt was close!

No surprises at Wimbledon so far. All the big names are fighting fit and winning their matches.

As expected however, Andy Murray is flying the British flag solo again this year as James Ward was knocked out in the first round, despite reaching the semi finals at Queen’s. Daniel Cox also fell at the first hurdle against Sergiy Stakhovsky and Daniel Evans tried hard against Florian Mayer, pushing him to four sets, but it wasn’t enough. Last year Wimbledon alone made £31 million profit which fed straight to the Lawn Tennis Association. Could that have bought us a top flight youngster? Money margins give the premiership football clubs the edge with their outlandish spending, but it seems money doesn’t solely nurture talent with a racket.

Of course, there’s no option here to buy players from around the world, talent has to be home-grown and that’s not an easy ask.  Feeding clubs around the country with the skills to grow their seedlings has its challenges and with the fierce competition around these days the tulips of British tennis are being nipped in the bud at these tournaments before they get a chance to bloom. Still, I’ll buy a Pimm’s and add a bit of miracle grow to the watering can of the LTA if that’s what it takes, but I’d rather be watching someone British with my quintessential drink this weekend.

Having said this, who could deny the entertainment from Centre Court yesterday when Robin Soderling beat Lleyton Hewitt from two sets down. The first set was astonishingly close and Hewitt was lucky to beat his opponent in a tie break. Soderling battled through the second set, only to let Hewitt break his serve and look like an early winner. But the third set, at 4-4, saw momentum change for Soderling as he swung the set to 7-5 to get himself back in the game. A close battle in the fourth  saw the Aussie crowd  continue vocally in hope only to watch their hero allow the scores to return level and prolong the match to another set. Two deuce games early on in the fifth proved the fight wasn’t over for both players, but the Swede remarkably claimed a 6-4 victory to come out on top. Was it Soderling’s extra 25 mph on the serve that won it? I don’t know. But Hewitt certainly wasn’t a fan of the blistering beginnings of each and every point.

In fact, after watching that, I’ll raise my glass to the internationals and look forward to Soderling’s attempts at battling past the big four.

Keep it coming Wimbledon.

Is Murray mint enough?

As Wimbledon celebrates the 125th year of the Championships in a few days time, I reckon the British may have one of the fiercest attacking players of the century in Andy Murray. The competing Scotsman looks ready to charge into the opposition with gusto, providing his ankle doesn’t play up, of course. After Murray’s superb form shown at the AEGON Championships at the weekend, his mastery long game, slice and ability to drop more shots than sets should give us all hope of a British victory at SW19, which begins on Monday. I was personally impressed by his performance against Andy Roddick in the semi final of the tournament at Queen’s. In under an hour it was game, set and match to the British No. 1 who annihilated his opponent with apparent ease.

Murray told the London Evening Standard this week that he flies out to his second home in Florida and condition trains in the sunshine until he is nearly sick. He then spends hours in the gym and plenty more on the courts…

According to Murray, tennis is now just as much about fitness as it is about skill. Those at the top are pretty much the same in their game play ability, it’s just the question of whether they can hold out in a long 5 set match which sets them all apart. Although Murray may be slightly better informed than myself, I’d beg to differ watching his 58 minute match against Roddick on Saturday. Roddick didn’t lack stamina, he lacked vision and strength. Murray played him round the court like a dog with a stick, placing the ball right and left for Roddick to scamper after. It wasn’t so much that Roddick played badly, it was just Murray had eyes for the court, placing balls perfectly, varying the pace and ultimately showing up the American World No. 10 for who he was: World No. 10.

Although Roddick has been working hard to build up his game since slipping out of the top 10 rankings, he has been World No. 1 in the past and therefore has the experience to play, and presumably win, matches such as those at Queen’s. But, it seems Andy Murray and his sunshine sessions are edging him forwards towards the front of the top flight and Roddick is obviously lacking in vitamin D. Now ranked No. 8 in the World, Andy Murray has been seeded 4th going into Wimbledon, behind No.1 Rafael Nadal, No.2 Novak Djokovic and No.3 Roger Federer. I think it’s fair to say that semi finals day this year will be one not to be missed and like the bomb that dropped on centre court in October 1940, there is sure to be an explosion if Murray gets to the final.

Football is a community project

This evening, I ate plantain with an Ecuadorean lady, discussed Guus Hiddink’s potential move to Chelsea with an Indian family and found a new running partner. This is the sort of thing that football has led me to do on a Monday night. Oh, The Beautiful Game.

You see, football is a community project. Since I began volunteering for Football In The Community, run by Ambassadors In Sport and ChristChurch, London, I have discovered that football, in fact, is a game of two halves. Like a ripe melon that oozes quenching juice, I’ve found the project to satisfy my thirst for community involvement and it’s shown me that football isn’t just about playing the game, it’s about the family too.

The first half is, of course, as delectable as a cantaloupe on a summer’s day. Children playing eleven-a-side with their friends in organised elation, showcasing nifty tricks they’ve been practicing and assisting goals to gift the glory. Team mates forming partnerships to work out tactics and positions. It’s got to be a winning formula for instilling discipline and camaraderie to the ranks of the prepubescents. And, led by a team of trained and willing coaches who love to see kids grow, you can imagine the project has a lot to offer.

I would like to report that I join in with the matches like some of the other volunteers, but I somewhat understandably don’t meet the standards. I played once to try to prove my worth but quite blatantly showed that I amount to the shrapnel in my back pocket. I didn’t contribute greatly to the score tally, well, at all, so I’ve been on the bench ever since. However, I’ve not lost hope of a chance opportunity to perform. Seeing Michael Owen watch his team from the dugout a lot this season, I’ve realised that all excellent players have to sit out once in a while…

The second half is where the play gets interesting. Each week I visit some of the families of the kids to say hello and to build relations. Because I live in the area it’s a great blessing building contacts around the estate but, wherever you live, talking to people from all walks of life is a fantastic privilege.

This evening I discovered one of the boy’s families was completely divided in their football club loyalty (I have this in my family too so I could empathise with the seriousness of the situation). The young lad supported Arsenal, his sister: Manchester United and his mother: Chelsea. Hence, it didn’t take long for a conversation to ensue about the current situation of the sport, fleeting managers and club performances. It was totally refreshing to discuss football with someone whom I would never have concluded I would ever speak to. Another family were just about to eat their dinner when we knocked and the menu involved a food I professed I had never tried. Within a few minutes, my friend and I had a bowl of fried plantain to eat, which we gobbled up with ease, and I had the offer of a cooking lesson to create the traditional Ecuadorean delight.

The warmth of a community is humbling. It helps to forget the stern looks at 8am on the tube and the unforgiving London lifestyle. It encourages a sense of humanity that you know is there, but just rarely get to glimpse. So, when a 45 minute conversation was forced to a close this evening as it was getting late, I left my final family with a phone number and an urge to whip out my trainers again. I’ve given the poor soles an over generous rest after my marathon training, so it feels like time could be right to set them back in motion. I’m too now invigorated and renewed knowing I’ve got a friendly partner to run with who lives just across the road.

So, as I put my feet up after 90 minutes, and a bit of extra time, both halves of the match were fantastic. I’ve given up a bit of time to meet the community whose children share a passion for the game of football and though I may not have played on the pitch this week, I certainly feel like I’ve scored a few goals…