If you ever go to Wimbledon, look up to the clouds and read their linings, you might spot the etched sentence across them: "No British man has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936."
That may or may not be a hallucination, but the sentence has lurked over southwest London for a long time, ever since the 1936 men's final when Perry scored a 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 rout of Gottfried von Cramm, the German noted for once receiving a phone call from Adolf Hitler shortly before a Davis Cup tie.
Perry would live to see his own statue at the All England Club, much-deserved for a man who won 10 Grand Slam tournaments but also six medals in world table tennis, showing a rare capacity to thwack balls regardless of whether tournament organizers elected to include furniture.
Yet no one on that Friday, July 3, 1936, or the weekend that followed, managed to write that Perry's third consecutive title would be Britain's last for the ensuing 77 years, and too bad, because that would have been a hell of a prediction.
From there, and on through Virginia Wade's fabulous triumph in women's singles at Wimbledon 1977, the hunt for the next male champion became a theme, then an exhausted theme, then a theme again, then an exhausted theme again …
In perhaps its nadir of longing, Tim Henman played a five-set semifinal against the wacky Goran Ivanisevic in 2001, the match lasting three rainy days that saw the weather foil Henman's momentum, before concluding on a Sunday on which one tabloid, in thick-black font, implored Henman to demonstrate the presence of testicles.
He did so on many occasions in his career, but he never reached a Grand Slam final. Ivanisevic won in a half-hour on the Day 3 installment.
So as the years have groaned by, even fine little turns of wit have had time to rise and go stale, as they do. For the years after Henman's career and his loud runs to four Wimbledon semifinals, some cheeky British fan sitting at a match of two other players might holler out between points, "C'mon, Tim!" to deserved laughter.
That, too, got time to grow old.
Now has come Andy Murray, with his picturesque game, revving up the hope again for the last five realistic years, even with a slightly different feel given the Scotland angle. Last year, Murray finally discontinued the use of another common sentence, the one that went, "No British man has reached a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938." That happy occasion did have a sad twinge, reducing forever the mentions of Henry Wilfred "Bunny" Austin, who died on his 94th birthday in 2000 after becoming the first player to wear shorts at Wimbledon, and after marrying an actress who appeared in four Hitchcock films amongst her 11.
(Not a bad life.)
Murray played Roger Federer in the 2012 final and lost -- it happens -- then made those in-stadium interviews seem actually worthwhile by sobbing through his words in a sterling show of appreciation for the fans.
Now the Murray mania has a rare chance to metastasize.
Mere hours ago, when Wimbledon 2013 began, everybody talked about the draw. Now that everything has changed wildly, everybody talks about the draw.
In the beginning, Murray, Federer and Rafael Nadal crowded the same half of the draw, with Federer and Nadal slated to meet in some somber quarterfinal -- too soon! -- and Murray needing to beat one of them to get to Novak Djokovic in a prospective starry final.
Now, the unimaginable carnage of the first three days has rooted out both Federer and Nadal, which nobody can believe, leaving Murray-watchers to salivate dangerously at the gutted-out path, which nobody can resist.
To attain another Grand Slam final bout with Djokovic -- would be their third in the last four Slams -- Murray would have to outlast a semifinal with one of these guys: Viktor Troicki, Mikhail Youzhny, Juan Monaco, Kenny De Schepper, Ernests Gulbis, Fernando Verdasco, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Jurgen Melzer, Jerzy Janowicz, Nicolas Almagro, Lukasz Kubot, Benoit Paire, Adrian Mannarino or Dustin Brown.
Youzhny in particular has a fine Grand Slam record, which nobody but unbalanced people manage to notice, but even beyond that, Murray says he does not look ahead that far.
He says that because he does not look ahead that far.
He does that because it's a really bad idea to look ahead that far.
"This is the thing," Murray said at Wimbledon on Thursday. "I mean, everybody was so obsessed with how the draw was before the tournament started. Now everybody wants to change their views because a few guys lost."
Well, in fairness to everybody, the "few guys" losing did include Federer and Nadal. Jeez.
There's a distinctive kind of oddball pressure when a player's draw has gone hollowed as compared with the usual, a pressure that probably affected Federer at the 2009 French Open, when, the day after Nadal exited in Nadal's only-ever Roland Garros loss, Federer lagged two sets behind Tommy Haas in the fourth round before rallying, in part with a very pivotal third-set, break-point, inside-out forehand that cuddled up obediently shy of the doubles line.
"I was in quite some danger right there," Federer said at the time, so in a world of danger, it's probably smart to do what Murray did in his BBC column, whether or not he intended smartness.
Murray clearly has learned to handle the hubbub anyway, evidenced by four straight Wimbledon semifinals or better, but halfway through his musings, he up and wrote this: "I have been challenged by someone on Twitter to take on Serena Williams. I'd be up for it, why not? I've never hit with her but obviously she's an incredible player and I think people would be interested to see how the men play against the women to see how the styles match up."
For venue, he suggested Las Vegas, proving again that the reigning U.S. Open champion really does fancy the U.S.
Williams, in reply, complied, but said she'd have trouble getting even a point, so would need provisions including the use of the doubles alleys.
That provided fine distraction, conjuring thoughts of Vegas and Williams entering on a gaudy throne a la Billie Jean King for her match with Bobby Riggs in September 1973. With four rounds to go to the final, now Murray might need only two or three more compelling unrelated themes to divert more tumult.