October 3, 2022

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WIMBLEDON, England — How strange that the Brits lost two big second-round matches in full swing on Wednesday night on center court. How can I say that it all seemed weird.

Previously, the sight of British players with depressed faces counted as a kind of ritual around this beautiful place. They would lose, and the English chroniclers would deliver the shrewdest sneers on earth. Now they’re discouraged (Andy Murray) or answering questions about pressure (Emma Raducanu).

“I could have had a good run here,” said Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, after losing, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (3-7), 6- 4, to 36 aces from 6-foot-10 ace-walloper John Isner, world No. 24, a 37-year-old American statuesque in both size and mobility.

“I’ve been asked that question at every press conference,” Raducanu said after her 6-3, 6-3 loss to 55th-placed Caroline Garcia of France, nine months after Raducanu picked up a stunning victory at the US Open. She said: “There’s no pressure. Like, why is there pressure? I’m still 19. Like, it’s a joke. I literally won a Grand Slam .”

They spoke at a Wimbledon where the sporting entity called ‘Great Britain’ sent 10 players to the second round – six men, four women – the most since 1984, when the 10 winners included Virginia Wade, Jo Durie, Anne Hobbs and eventual TV star Sue Barker. They spoke after a sporting nation representing a collection of nations in one country transformed to the point that its once lovable and derided relationship with defeat has become kaput.

On court n°12 of Wimbledon, it was Ukraine against Ukraine

He happily blew away in a decade-long deluge of Murray and Lewis Hamilton and the 2019 Cricket World Cup and the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and the Euro 2020 final and Raducanu at the US Open 2021 and 196 medals in the last three Summer Olympics and enough stuff to keep a queen trying to give away all new titles busy.

Wales are participating in the 2022 Men’s World Cup.

So when Murray lost the closing game to a great clamor, when he saw a late chance to break love-30 shattered with a 134 mph ace, a 133 mph ace and a winner of 136mph service, it just sounded different all around to when, say, a generation ago, Tim Henman used to lose valiantly in the closing laps as the only hope there. And when Raducanu lost just before Murray, well, she won that US Open after the fact, even in the midst of her own nationality.

“One person sees a person doing well, then another thinks they can do well too,” said Harriet Dart, a 94th-ranked player who made it through her first round.

“For me,” said Liam Broady, the 132nd-ranked player who came through his first round in five sets, “the most exciting thing now is that we have, like, this plethora of talent coming forward. All these young guys push each other.

He spoke of 22-year-old and 219th-ranked Paul Jubb, who helped coax the No. 3 court into audible roars around the court on Tuesday in their slender 3-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-7 (3-7), 7 -5 defeat against the famous and infamous Australian Nick Kyrgios. “Normally,” Broady said, “you’d see someone go up against a Kyrgios like me in Australia. You kinda think of a lamb to slaughter [and it was a straight-set loss five months ago]. Whereas Paul went there and probably walks off the pitch thinking he could have won it. We still have seven, eight Britons of that kind of age coming. It’s an exciting time.

Now they seem to be playing with hope above fear all around the pitch, and rather than feeling the weight of national pressure that remains after football has dominated most of it, they are sharing that weight. They are perfectly capable of dragging a 24-year-old guy with a giant smile, Alastair Gray, who rose from No. 523 to No. 288 in the rankings, winning him a first-round match and saying, “We all encourage each other. each other” and “Yeah, maybe it hasn’t been like that in the past” and “We all go out and play very freely, which is dangerous.

Go back a generation to Wimbledon 2002, when Henman roamed the grassy land, the outdoor video viewing area was given the name ‘Henman Hill’ and the Brits had two men in the top 100 and five in the top 200, no women in the top 100 and two in the top 200. (Henman was No. 5.) Now those numbers are four and seven on the men’s side, two and six on the women’s side (including the two No. 11 players at the moment , Raducanu and Cameron Norrie). They have Murray at No. 52 after venturing to No. 3 before his physiological test in recent years, and he says: “I really want to try to improve my ranking to a level where I will be ranked in Grand Slams. “

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Being seeded would help avoid a seed in his 54th major, as would Isner, even though Isner was 0-8 against Murray at the finish. It would help to avoid losing to serves close to the lines of an Isner, who would say, “I don’t have too many weapons at my disposal to do anything different.” I have a big gun, right? I need this to work. Perhaps it would be a later turn before an on-court interviewer asked Isner how he managed to keep a cool head as the fans around him lost theirs, to which Isner responded as follows :

The remaining crowd laughed. No one cares for a little fun here.

“Yeah,” Murray said, “it’s one of those games that, if I had made it, who knows what would have happened.” He said, “It definitely, definitely hurts,” and it carried the plaintive sound of a great champion trying to get back out there.

It’s not even really alarming, at least to the rational, that Raducanu has gone out in the second round of each of this year’s Grand Slams or that there’s an ongoing speculation that players will find out more about her now that there is a lot of video tape.

“My coach did it,” Garcia said. “I did not do it.”

Then: “Big secrets. I’m not gonna tell you.”

“I just didn’t have enough ball speed today,” Raducanu said.

Those in the crowd had enough mustard, though, another case of a different tenor from days gone by – less desperate, more sure they can beg their players to victory. They tried like crazy on Wednesday, but it didn’t quite work out, so they cheered Raducanu on his fast wave around 5:30 p.m., and they cheered Murray on as he waved and twisted and twisted and waved around 9:30 p.m. Then they made, maybe for the drinks, even better than they used to have.