Andy Murray keeps British hopes, and Henman Hill, alive at Wimbledon

Andy Murray keeps British hopes, and Henman Hill, alive at Wimbledon
Andy Murray of Great Britain defeated Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in a third round match at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

Much had already happened Friday by the time the main focus at Wimbledon shifted to a hill, a place where personal real estate is like an acre in Malibu.

It was late afternoon. The rain that was supposed to come never did. Big fluffy clouds moved quickly overhead, as the tennis players on court wrestled with the swirling breezes pushing the cumulus.


Li Na, the pride of China and the No. 2-seeded women's player, had already been eliminated in a match she lost twice. On the first match point for the Czech Republic's Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Li's baseline shot had been called out. Li challenged, the Hawkeye camera said she was right. They replayed the point and Li double-faulted.

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic didn't lose, but he almost left.

In good control of his match with Gilles Simon of France, Djokovic took a fall midway through the third set and braced himself with his left arm on the way down. He immediately crumbled in obvious pain. It was clearly a real injury, not one of those soccer flops.

But after a long time on his back, being checked out by a doctor, Djokovic got back up and finished off Simon. He said later that the immediate pain made him fear he had separated his left shoulder.

Mike and Bob Bryan, the dynamic doubles duo from Camarillo, lost the first set and were taken to a tiebreaker in the second, but prevailed in four sets. The twins are 36 and have won 15 Grand Slam titles. Three of them were here, including last year.

Lleyton Hewitt, 33, who won here in 2002 and for whom the phrase "tennis grinder" might have been invented, came back from two sets down to force a fifth against Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, a semifinalist last year. But Janowicz, nine years younger, prevailed.

And then there were the usual sidebar kerfuffles. Several female players were asked whether they had been given warnings about wearing colored underwear that could be seen through their Wimbledon-mandated all-white skirts. The answers were a consistent "no," and the tabloid types skulked away to devise new ridiculous story angles to pursue.

It was a day of double defeat for them, once Caroline Wozniacki, the recently jilted fiancee of golf star Rory McIlroy, squelched the Rory questions with the simple declaration: "I'm not a victim."

So by the time the real moment of the day arrived, it was about 6 p.m. and the hill was packed. It is Woodstock for tennis. Perhaps the only major elevation on Earth more crowded and littered is Mt. Everest during climbing season.

This is Henman Hill, though we aren't sure why.

An exhaustive survey of six Brits sitting on it brought the conclusion that, although Tim Henman never got beyond a Wimbledon semifinal and Andy Murray won the title last year after a 77-year British drought, Henman started the excitement here and it remains Henman Hill.

The vote was 5 to 1 not to change it to Murray's Mount, or anything else. Surveys do not lie. This one had only a 67.893% margin of error.

Henman once told Murray he could have his Wimbledon title, but he was keeping his hill.

Think of it as the Hollywood Bowl with a big screen. Huge screen, actually. Maybe 40 feet by 30 feet. The Daily Mail says it is the size of three double-decker buses.


You can pay $200 to sit in the rafters on Centre Court, or, for a grounds pass that costs about $34, sit on the hill with 3,000 of your closest friends and see every twitch and wrinkle on Murray's face while you sip champagne and nibble on fish and chips.

Easy choice, huh?

Centre Court is for the moneyed, the connected, the coats and ties and shiny shoes. Henman Hill is for everybody else.

A group of twenty-somethings that included brother and sister Jack and Tessie Thomson and friend Will Hooley sit at a picnic table — "damn lucky to get it," Hooley says — and wait for Murray's match to come on the big screen.

We are told that going out and interviewing people on Henman Hill has become a cliche. We are told this by some of the same people asking about women's underwear, so we go out and interview people.

The perspective is good.

"Good deal for 20 pounds," says Jack Thomson, a student at Oxford-Brookes University.

"It's part of an annual two-week Wimbledon holiday for people," says Tessie, a graduate of Brighton University.

"If Murray wins, he's British," Hooley says. "If he loses, he's Scottish." Forgive Hooley if he has a bit of a hard edge to him. He is a pro rugby player.

The theory up here is that, when Murray cried after losing the 2012 final to Roger Federer, and then sang the British national anthem after he won last year, he went from robotic tennis player to human. He has earned their adoration and they are among the world's best at adoring.

Murray wins, of course. Poor Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain never had a chance. It is 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 and it takes just long enough for several tons of British food to be devoured on the hill. A TV announcer refers to this scene as a "British Carnival." When pondering the food consumption and its source, this could also be seen as a "National Heartburn."

Murray says afterward that he's happy to have played his way into the second week.

So are the food and drink vendors near the hill. Another week is music to Britain's ears. The hill will be alive, with the sound of Murray.