In the end, it did not happen as I had imagined. But then, I had almost stopped imagining it anyway. So the fact that I was staying up into the dead of night in Beijing, watching the tennis match on television, and only pretending to myself that I was enjoying a rare summer afternoon at home in London, scarcely mattered.
But one thing I did not have to pretend: For the first time since I began wielding a tennis racquet as an eager boy 50 years ago, a British player won the men’s title at Wimbledon.
Andy Murray’s victory, ending a 77-year drought for British men’s tennis at the sport’s historic home, was one I would have loved to have savored in England, where the entire nation was egging him on. But even sitting alone in a darkened room on the other side of the globe, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as Novak Djokovic struck his last losing shot into the net.
The life of a British tennis fan has not been a happy one for the past 80 years or so. I can just remember Angela Mortimer, an Englishwoman, winning the Wimbledon ladies’ championship in 1961, and I was jumping up and down with excitement when Virginia Wade won the centenary Wimbledon in 1977.
But when it came to the men, all we have had is also-rans. There's Tim Henman, for example, who was a British hero around the turn of the century despite the fact that he never made it as far as the finals of any Grand Slam tournament.
And when I was a teenager, we all worshipped Roger Taylor. But not for his triumphs, unfortunately – he never got beyond the semi-finals at Wimbledon. Instead we admired him for his very British sportsmanship: In 1973, I recall, after being declared the winner of a quarter-final against Bjorn Borg with a serve that Mr. Borg disputed, Mr. Taylor offered to play the point again. He won that match eventually, but later lost his semi-final.
Today, at last, British tennis has someone other than gallant losers to celebrate.
And yet, and yet...
Andy Murray is doubtless a great guy and an honorable man. But if an umpire called his match point serve "in," you can bet he would take his victory whatever his opponent’s doubts.
And who could blame him, especially now that “Hawkeye” can resolve such doubts in the blink of a computer’s eye?
I should stop worrying. And perhaps, just for the day, we can be let off Rudyard Kipling’s admonition in his poem “If,” inscribed above the entrance to Centre Court:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
Gallant losers are all very well, but after 77 years, your very own Wimbledon champion is worth celebrating.