Britain’s in a bit of a fix. OK, that’s an understatement. Long gone are the days when Ed Miliband’s consumption of a bacon sandwich made national headlines. Brexit has heralded political shambles and, as one tweeter pointed out earlier this week, “this is the most extraordinary day in British politics since yesterday”.
Meanwhile, Euro 2016 hasn’t done much to cheer us up either, with England’s shock defeat to Iceland in the first knock-out stage, Scotland’s failure to qualify and Wales, ironically, now the only home nation remaining.
So thank god for Wimbledon. Not because it offers up a twee reproduction of all things British with its preened lawns and strawberries and cream – some have argued that’s the sort of nostalgia that got us in this mess in the first place – but because it’s given us a bunch of homegrown heroes to cheer for.
Take Marcus Willis. After miraculously knocking out Ricardas Berankis (ranked 54) in the first round, the world number 772 found himself out on Centre Court earlier this week with seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer on the other side of the net. For a bloke who’d earned £248 playing tennis so far this year, it was the sort of moment he’ll look back on in ten years time and wonder if it really happened.
It did. And the best bit about it was the festival atmosphere on Centre Court as the crowds rallied behind the happy-go-lucky 25-year-old from Slough. For Roger Federer – a firm favourite at SW19 since he first burst onto the scene in 2001 – it was a strange state of affairs as spectators regularly gave his opponent standing ovations.
Of course, Federer’s balletic command of the court saw him march through in straight sets but it didn’t matter. Marcus Willis was exactly what we needed, raising his fists in victory as he scored points off Fed and informing reporters afterwards that he’d “earned” the beer that was waiting for him in the changing rooms.
Willis’s Wimbledon fairytale may be over, but there’s still plenty more for Brits to cheer about over the next ten days. Andy Murray, reunited with Ivan Lendl, offers our best hope of SW19 glory. The Scot has never quite inspired the sort of fierce loyalty commanded by Tim Henman but his heroics have put Britain back on the tennis map, with two Slams under his belt (including Wimbledon) and an historic Davis Cup victory last year.
And then there’s Daniel Evans – the Brit ranked 91 in the world is the surprise gatecrasher to today’s third round. His story doesn’t quite match the magic of Willis but, having never previously won a match at SW19, he stormed past Jan-Lennard Struff and then Alexandr Dolgopolov to set up a tie with his friend Willis’s assailant Federer.
The Swiss is likely to face a sterner test in Evans who showed some fine form in overcoming the 30th seed, although even if the 26-year-old from Birmingham plays the match of his life, it’s unlikely he’ll progress past Fed.
But to focus on that would be missing the point. Like Willis before him, Evans will find himself out on Centre Court later today in a position he probably never thought possible. He’s vowed “It’s not a day out for me. It’s a good opportunity. I’m taking it seriously,” and the fans will be hoping for a match, not a walkover.
But for us British supporters, Evans offers something positive to cling onto – another plucky Brit, overcoming the odds to take on arguably the greatest tennis player we’ve ever seen. The headlines may be dominated by gloomy economic predictions and political maelstrom but this afternoon Centre Court will afford tennis fans a cause we can not just get behind but grab hold of with both hands. Thank goodness for that.