Murray left with nagging feeling as thoroughbred Djokovic pulls away

Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 00:00

TV VIEW:Arvika Ligeonniere and great British tennis hope both come a cropper at the final fence, writes MARY HANNIGAN

As Ted Walsh said of Benefficient on Saturday, “there are days when he looks a helluva horse, and there are days when he just looks a horse”. And so it proved for Andy Murray at the Australian Open, having looked a helluva horse all the way to the final, he was made to look just like Benefficient on a so-so day by the thoroughbred that is Novak Djokovic.

This didn’t come as a huge surprise to John Lloyd or Sue Barker back in the BBC studio, they’d feared as much, Sue having noted, ominously, before the final “Djokovic has no weaknesses . . . he’s like a rubber band, all bendy”. But for the third time in four years, Boris Becker’s crystal ball had malfunctioned.

2010: “Yeah, I think Murray’s going to win – I’m listening to my stomach and it tells me there could be a changing of the guard today.” (Roger Federer won in straight sets).

2011: “On paper it’s Djokovic, but my gut tells me Murray.” (Djokovic won in straight sets).

2013: “Murray in four.” (Djokovic in four).

In fairness to Boris, he can’t have foreseen the fluttering feather that distracted Andy when he was about to hit that second serve in the second-set tiebreak.

You couldn’t but sense at that moment that if the incident turned out to be pivotal, there’d be an unpardonable pun-fest, ‘Djokovic ruffles Murray’s feathers’, ‘Murray knocked over with a feather’, ‘Djokovic feathers his nest’, that class of thing.

Not quite a classic then, but neither was the women’s final, even if it went, as they say in the trade, the distance. “I think Azarenka will just edge this in three sets,” Lloyd had forecast, his crystal ball once again functioning exquisitely.

Azarenka, of course, had become the Lance Armstrong of women’s tennis – cheat! – after that time-out in the semi-finals, so her unforced errors in the final were, at times, greeted with enraptured glee. All of which kinda left you wishing Li Na the best.

Neither Murray nor Na went down without a fight, which is more than can be said for Arvika Ligeonniere in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown – and him the favourite in a three-horse race.

“This horse has proved he loves fences and jumps them like a stag,” Ted declared pre-race, although as the three horses criss-crossed on our screen as they were about to set off, we couldn’t be entirely sure which one he was referring to when he said “the big horse in the middle is like Paul O’Connell”.

It was, possibly, Arvika, “big, strong, able-bodied, he can take a thump and he can gallop through a fence and maybe make a mistake and it won’t take as much out of him.”

If O’Connell was watching, he must have had a helluva good feeling.

Off they went and Arvika fell, leaving Benefficient and Oscars Well to battle it out for gold and silver, the Leopardstown powers-that-be putting the bronze back in the safe.

Benefficient triumphed, after Oscars Well had an argument with the last fence, Ted given the task of reviewing where it all had gone wrong for Arvika. “Ah, he fell soft, like a ton of bricks,” he said when shown the replay of the tumble, suggesting the favourite had gone down as easily as Luis Suarez in a penalty box. “I’d be disgusted with him. He barely caught it but couldn’t get his landing gear out, a sloppy aul fall. Fell like a big slob.”

Back to Leopardstown yesterday and you could almost see Ted and Robert Hall through the horizontal rain.

A nice piece on jockey Patrick Mullins, son of trainer Willie. “A great person,” Robert smiled.

“Yeah, he’s bred to be,” said Ted. “He has a lovely mother, a lovely father, lovely grandparents. As the fella says: ‘He’d be a bastard if he wasn’t a good fella.’” You know, you could have knocked Robert over with a feather.

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