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Roger Federer fans leave home favourite Andy Murray feeling unloved during ATP World Tour Finals contest

Published: November 12, 2012 | 10:15 am
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This was a truly bizarre end to a breakthrough year. It was not so much that Andy Murray scuttled out of Greenwich with a meekness scarcely befitting a US Open champion, but that he did so with such scant sympathy from a supposed home crowd.
Roger Federer fans leave home favourite Andy Murray feeling unloved during ATP World Tour Finals contestLove for the Fed: there were split loyalties among the crowd at the O2 with Roger Federer feeling just as much if not more love than Andy Murray Photo: GETTY IMAGES

At times in this cavernous arena, it felt like a Roger Federer tribute night as the Swiss groupies gathered with placards requesting: “Quiet please, genius at work”. We might as well have been in Zurich as on the outskirts of London. It said a great deal for Federer’s supranational appeal that the number of Saltires fluttering around the O₂ was dwarfed by the contingent draped in the Swiss flag and its bold equilateral cross. Those cries you could hear were not of “C’mon Andy!” but “Allez, Roger!” Not even a returning British grand slam winner could, it seemed, hold a candle to the celebrity or popularity of tennis’ most venerated star.
Federer, naturellement, took the acclaim in his typically self-reverential style. As clouds of dry ice swirled around him during the ridiculously ramped-up preamble, he appeared to regard the reception as merely his due as he gave a couple of perfunctory nods to his adoring disciples. Few could accuse him, though, of failing to deliver on the introduction as he withstood a ragged start to find his range and dispatch Murray with a bombardment of lacerating shots.
Murray, sadly, looked quite the spare part at the end. As if tacitly acknowledging that he had not reached the levels to which we had become accustomed this year, he hurried off court before Federer had even begun his post-match interview. But he harboured no resentment towards his conqueror or the Federer cheerleaders, who had contrived to fill this giant arena with what looked like half the population of Geneva.
Asked if he was surprised by the strange reversal of partisan backing, Murray replied diplomatically: “When you play Roger anywhere in the world, he gets great support. He deserves it because of everything he has achieved.”
The compliment was reciprocated by Federer, who explained: “You can’t expect the crowd to be cheering for you if you’re playing Andy in this country, so I do respect their support. I don’t take it for granted. I think it’s very special that I do have it all around the world – not just in England.”

Perhaps the Murray personality that so beguiled New Yorkers in September has still not been fully embraced this side of the Atlantic. That might sound a curious claim to make of a man who has reached a Wimbledon final, won Olympic gold and shaken off the 76-year itch for British grand-slam glory, but the cauldron of noise was not in his corner last night. Gone was the febrile patriotism of SW19, to be replaced by the crazed exhortations of people wearing ‘RF’ T-shirts. As a welcome party for a figure who had done more than any to define a convulsive summer for British sport, it was perverse. Murray was booed apparently for no more grievous offence than changing his racket.
For one hour and 33 minutes, a piece of south-east London felt forever Switzerland. It was all terribly European, but not quite what Murray needed to end his season with the requisite flourish. Part of the blame rested with the O₂ itself: while a wonderful amphitheatre for tennis, its ambience remains inescapably corporate. At least the celebrity brigade had deigned to make an effort. Sir Ian McKellen was sitting in the same row as Kevin Spacey, a fully paid-up Murray-maniac after he turned up at Flushing Meadows, in the O₂’s equivalent of ‘thespian alley’. Oh, and Kelly Brook was here, too.
They were hard-pressed to make themselves heard, however, above the remorseless Federer clamour. As the defending champion prepared to serve the match out, you could close your eyes and imagine that London was some strange town called Rogerville, where all paid obeisance to their master’s brilliance. No wonder Murray could not escape this madness fast enough, back to the comforting sight of his two border terriers. From them, if not from his latest audience, he could expect unconditional love.


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