Take the flags down and move on

I DON'T mean to be unpatriotic - no, that's a lie: patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Actually, I DO mean to be unpatriotic, but I don't always manage it.

I DON'T mean to be unpatriotic - no, that's a lie: patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Actually, I DO mean to be unpatriotic, but I don't always manage it.

I can get quite passionate about Suffolk. And, heaven help me, I still support the England football team - with all the irony and pessimism natural to supporting any team other than Manchester United, Arsenal or Brazil.

I won't sing the national anthem, but that can quite reasonably be described as an act of patriotism in itself. I mean, "long to reign over us" - why should we wish that of a woman I consider to be a dowdy old member of a dysfunctional family?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Wimbledon.


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Unpatriotic or not, I can't help rejoicing a little in the inevitable failure of Timothy Henman esq to make it all the way across the fading lawns of SW19.

I suppose in a way you have to feel sorry for Tim. All that adulation, all that expectation, all that ridiculous media frenzy to endure and try to live up to for two weeks every summer.

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The burden of being British No.1 - and a not-bad player in world terms too - is the kind of cross no other member of the tennis circus has to bear.

Andy Roddick doesn't face it at Flushing Meadow. He's just one among many US stars among the upper ranks.

No one gets it in Paris because, well, the French accept with a Gallic shrug the sheer unlikeliness of a home winner.

Lleyton Hewitt may get it a little Down Under, but there always seem to be others to share the burden there.

Roger Federer doesn't get it anywhere - the Swiss have no expectations and are just pleasantly surprised to find a world-class sportsman flying their flag. Not that he flies it that boldly – I bet you weren't that sure where he came from, were you?

But we Brits seem to delight in dragging down our sporting heroes with the weight of unrealistic expectations.

Why, though, should it matter to us who wins Wimbers?

Are we a nation of eager tennis-club members? Do we display the slightest interest in the game for 50 weeks of the year?

Could you name a top ten of British players, apart from Tim (and not counting that big gawky Canadian bloke who chose the Union Jack as a flag of convenience)?

And do you think Tim, Arvind, Alex, Jamie, Lee or that Canadian bloke ever set foot on court intending to win for Britain?

I suppose come Davis Cup time they do, but tennis isn't really a team game.

Tim sets out to win for Tim, not for you and me. And certainly not to satisfy the trumped-up annual media circus of Henmania.

Tim will turn 30 during the next Grand Slam event, the US Open. The guy who beat him this week is ten years younger. I think we can now safely say Henman's last real chance of lifting the title was last year, or the year before.

After Tim, can you see the next guy to lead the parade of gallant British also-rans? Nope, neither can I.

Perhaps next year we can just settle back again to our pre-Tim condition of being merely the hosts. And enjoy the privilege of being able to watch top players like Federer, Roddick, Sebastien Grosjean – and, yes, Mario Ancic – in action on our turf.

Now, come on, Portugal!

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