Greatness graces every generation and needn’t be devalued

#TENNIS

Towards the end of my primary education, the concept of the GAA Summer Camp was introduced. It was actually my final year on the first part of the education ladder. However, through the kindness of Willie Lyons, the late Peter Clarke and coaches Colm Brady and James Battersby, permission was granted for me to tag along for a few years thereafter.

The undoubted highlight at the time was meeting Colm O’Rourke – properly – for the first time. He was my first sporting hero and still holds joint ranking as the best footballer the one seeing eye has ever witnessed. All these years later, it recently dawned that Trevor Giles was also in tow that day. A changing of the guard there and then.

Around that time, Dublin’s Paul Curran also paid a visit. That may surprise some, but what many mightn’t realise is that – as well as being the son of Meath All Ireland winner the late Noel – Paul also has strong family ties with Dunboyne, being a member of the extended Hartnett family.

Paul was one of the finest half backs the game has seen. And, aside from the memory of his generosity and friendship to me around that time, what also recently came to mind was how unlucky his generation of Dublin footballers were not to end their time with even more decorated careers than they enjoyed in comparison to the current generation. Yes, they won a plethora of league and Leinster titles, but that Dublin group were worth more than the sole All Ireland they garnered.

Curran and his ilk were greats of their time. So here’s the thing, greatness graces every generation and needn’t be devalued by inter-generational comparisons. All of that was to the foremost of thoughts in the midst of the recent Championships at Wimbledon. The build up to the annual fortnight during which people become abnormally captivated by tennis was, you see, dominated by what amounted to valedictory commentary on Roger Federer.

Now, the early part of my taking what was, like most people, annual passing interest in affairs of the court revolved around Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker and – mostly – John McEnroe. For whatever reason, not that much is recalled of the Sampras/Agassi era, but, in more recent times, interest was again ignited by the sustained brilliance of Rafael Nadal, Federer and – latterly – Novak Djokovic.

Even despite what transpired at the All England Club most recently, the reams of coverage devoted to why the Swiss couldn’t win seemed unjust. He didn’t triumph of course, and with every passing season the likelihood of him doing so again fades.

Be that as it may however, you’d need to be of concrete construction not to be enthralled by and admiring of the longevity with which he has maintained competitiveness at the epicentre of his chosen craft. While the peaks of yesteryear may no longer be attainable, it seems unlikely that troughs which would necessitate his removal from major events and thus inevitably lead to a diminishment of the appeal of the sport will gain an overtaking foothold in the short term at least. Still, there’s evidently a shifting of the sands again. The sense has always been that, for whatever reason, Andy Murray has never been garnished with the extent of adulation it might reasonably have been thought he was due.

Somewhat whimsically, it seems, talk abounds of a ‘big four’. Where golf has Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and – presumably – Dustin Johnson, see Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray. Except, placing the latter in a quartet hardly stacks up now, given that injury has surely consigned the Spaniard to not getting back anywhere near his zenith, and father or mother time are unlikely to wait for the Fed Express indefinitely.

Djokovic’s premature defenestration from SW19 does or at least should not affect his standing as the game’s top performer. However, Murray’s recent triumph in the tournament closest to home and the most recognisable one in the sport confirms – even besides the fact that the Scot is currently ranked as second best in the world – him the obvious heir to the sensational Serb. Whenever one may be needed.

Sentimental leanings aside, it must now surely be conceded that, in usurping him on the London grass, Milos Raonic has also overtaken Federer in terms of being third in line. That said, time is surely the only thing between the Dunblane man and top spot. And it’s not known to hang about for anyone.

Were he to retire this minute, the famous son of the nearly as famous mother could justifiably reflect on a stellar career. Despite a truly admirable accolade haul, there’s always been the sense that it could’ve been much better and, indeed, may yet be. Chances are Murray has twigged this too.

Consider Padraig Harrington inexplicably changing his swing after annexing three Majors. What Murray has done is the antithesis to that. Having been tutored by Lendl when making his breakthrough onto the Grand Slam stage, it’s hardly coincidence that with the latter again in his box, he again adorns that stage.

Winners find a way. Witness Chris Froome recently running part of a stage in the Tour De France when his bike was unusable. In terms of tennis, Raonic seems best placed to complete the step up to the elite. Hiring McEnroe as coach won’t do his prospects any harm. Seeing ‘Mac’ and Lendl lock horns again is certainly encouragement to tune in more than once a year!

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