I am in a restless, nervy mood. Murray is playing his semi final match at Wimbledon and his 6’8” Polish opponent, who seems not remotely overawed by the occasion or the partisan crowd, is showing alarming skill around the court. Everyone thinks that Murray is going to win it in three sets but nothing about this year’s championships has gone according to plan and I’m not taking anything for granted.
The VIP Polish supporters are a lively bunch, slow clapping between each point. This starts to get on my nerves and I decide I don’t like any of them. When Murray double faults set point down there is a deathly hush around centre court. I snap at my younger son who can’t see anything wrong with the Pole’s impertinent fist-pumping celebrations and dagger stares over the net and have to leave the room. It’s too stressful.
We’ve been invited out for supper with friends to celebrate my husband’s birthday so I get changed and flit uselessly from room to room, trying not to read too much into the alternating cheers and groans coming from the sitting room T.V. Periodically, I am drawn back to the screen but every time Murray gets a break point he fails to convert it. A headache threatens. I have a bad feeling about this and tell myself that the match and Murray’s path to glory is doomed.
When the time comes to leave, it’s almost a relief that I don’t have to watch anymore. My sons are, nonetheless, left with strict instructions to ensure the tennis remains taped to the end; the match is bound to run over the scheduled time and therefore be moved to a different channel. My older son asks if I want him to text updates.
I say that I do, then add as an afterthought, ‘but only if it’s good news.’
It is a glorious, balmy evening and it is a treat to be out with friends instead of cooking for the hordes. We’re in my car and the radio is tuned to the tennis because I’ve been listening to it incessantly for the past ten days. Now, however, I can’t bear to have it on. Having been an avid supporter of Murray’s from the start, I want more than anything for him to win, but this semi-final feels dangerous, the monster-serving Pole with his taped up arm resembling something bionic, an unknown quantity.
Fifteen minutes into our journey my friend, who is following the match on his phone, announces that Murray is 1-4 down in the third set. My headache gains strength.
‘The problem with Murray,’ his wife says convivially, ‘is that he’s not very likeable.’
‘How can you say that.’ I say, jumping to his defense. ‘Didn’t you watch the documentary about him?’
‘He’s a really good player. I just don’t think he’s a great one,’ my husband chips in. Traitor, I think.
‘Well, I wouldn’t worry about it,’ my friend says, “He’s going to win the final. I’ve got a witchy feeling about it.’ I don’t know what she means by witchy but it makes up for the likability remark and I am mollified.
We arrive at an Elizabethan manor house and have cocktails on a terraced garden. The air is slightly chilly but the setting is charming and I feel myself start to relax. For half an hour my mobile is silent, then it chimes as a text comes through. I can tell by the Harry Potter jingle that it is from my older son but resist looking at it.
We are shown into a beamed dining room. All the staff are wearing black uniform and have Eastern European accents. Our waitress brings several delicious courses that resemble works of art. Mobile phones aren’t allowed in the restaurant but when mine rings I answer it on the pretext that something might be wrong at home. It is my younger son asking if he can cook the sausages in the fridge.
‘What happened to your supper?’ I whisper, hunched over the phone.
‘We’ve eaten it but we’re still hungry. D’you want to know the score?’
‘No, I don’t.’ He has a habit of deliberately winding me up.
‘Please can I tell you the score?’ he pushes.
I feel myself weaken. ‘I’m not meant to be on my mobile.’
‘I think you should let me tell you,’ he says temptingly and because I don’t stop him he tells me. Murray has taken the fourth set and won the match. I am ecstatic and order a large pudding.
When our waitress comes to clear the table I wax lyrical about the apricot soufflé and tell her that I could have eaten two more. I tell her that what with the lovely meal and the excitement of the tennis it has been a great way to end the day. Then, as an afterthought, I ask her,
‘You’re not Polish, are you?
‘I am actually, yes,’ she says.
‘Oh.’ I am dismayed, ‘I am so sorry,’ And then in an attempt to make amends add, ‘but he did really well to get to the semis.’
Now she looks dismayed. ‘I had it taped to watch later. Did he lose then?’ Somehow I don’t think she’s referring to Murray.
Back home my husband heads straight for bed but I switch on the T.V and, despite the late hour, stay up until 3am to watch Murray’s match and the gradual submission of the Pole. By the time I finally crawl upstairs to bed, tired though I am, I am smiling. I don’t yet know it but forty eight hours from now my smile will broaden into a rapturous if tearful grin when Murray pulls off one of the great sporting achievements of my lifetime and leaves me and much of the nation feeling gloriously, giddily happy.