The Comet from Laputa

There comes a time in the life of even the most brilliant extended metaphor when you run into trouble. In my last entry, I compared Novak Djokovic to Gulliver in Lilliput, which led me to the useful idea that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are Brobdingnagians. So far, so good. When it came time to start this entry about Andy Murray, I was naturally drawn to the idea of Laputa. After all, like the citizens of Jonathan Swift’s bizarre floating island, Andy Murray seems often to be overcome by the attraction of applying overly sophisticated methods to achieve mundane results, such as designing clothes or winning tennis matches. It was a decent enough fit, until it occurred to me that Swift’s searing wit extended even to the name: La puta is Spanish for ‘the whore’. It is unlikely the author was unaware of this, although the significance is a trifle murky. (Presumably he was impugning the contemporary Whig government’s integrity.) In any case, I’m aware of it, and given Murray’s heartbreaking semifinal losses to Nadal at both Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals this year, it’s a probably not appropriate.

Comparing a contemporary Scottish tennis pro with a renowned literary satire from the early 18th century was always going to get awkward. Metaphors are by nature ambiguous, and Borges reminds us that ambiguity is richness. Still, implying that Murray is Nadal’s whore is a bit too rich. Empson helpfully demonstrated that ambiguity can be broken down into various categories. In case you’re wondering which category this is, it’s the one that inspires Andy Murray to punch me in the face. So, for the record, I unambiguously declare that Andy Murray does not hail from Laputa.

Regardless of where he hails from, his current position within the reasonably static model of the tennis cosmos – in which all bodies orbit the binary pulsar of Nadal-Federer – is problematic. Djokovic, as I suggested the other day, occupies the innermost orbit, and most other players are placed outward from there. Occasionally some of the orbiting bodies will veer off course (and perhaps stuff their wrists), but mostly the cosmos is close to immutable. Apart from Murray. He’s more like a comet on a bizarre irregular path that sometimes sweeps in and wrecks up the joint. Seemingly from nowhere, he might hurtle into the pulsar and smash it to pieces, and yet often his progress is diverted by a gentle gravitational nudge from a tiny outer satellite. So eccentric is this body that past behaviour provides no reliable guide as to what might happen next, perplexing and infuriating tennis fans and astrophysicists alike.

Given the failure of science in this matter, predicting whether Andy Murray will win a major in 2011 has flourished into a vital sub-field of wild prophecy. Sadly, this too has yielded nothing. Even Nostradamus, not known for reticence (or specificity), was silent on the issue. Even he knew when to leave well enough alone. While there is every reason to think Murray will break through at some point in the next twelve months, there was every reason to think that 12, 24 and even 36 months ago. Anyone who claims they know what Andy Murray will do next is a liar.

To reiterate, he is not from Laputa.

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