I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a big tennis fan – I watch a few hours of Wimbledon every summer and keep up with who’s winning the majors almost by accident via 5Live, and that’s about the extent of my involvement.
But, ever since discovering that we share a birthday (15th of May – the same as Brian Eno) I’ve kept tabs on Andy Murray more than I ever have any other tennis player. The fact that he’s the ‘great British hope’ certainly makes that easier from a media coverage point of view.
I’ve never understood the antipathy, and seemingly outright hatred, that some English people have towards him, either because of his alleged dour, sullen, and miserable demeanour, or because of the fact that he said he’d never support England at football (which I always took as a deliberately provocative quip, anyway).
With regards the latter, why should he support England at football? He’s Scottish; the footballing rivalry between England and Scotland is deeply ingrained and fun. One can feel (and be) British and Scottish at the same time, and plenty of people do. You don’t change your nationality due to your circumstances. Unless you’re Greg Rusedski.
I find it even harder to understand why people claim not to like his personality. We don’t really know his personality, as tennis-viewers; we know how he responds when asked stupid questions by Gary Richardson (with more civility than I’d manage). Beyond that, we know he’s serious and focussed, which, in my experience, is what high-achieving sportspeople need to be in order to be successful. His job is to entertain us on the tennis court by winning.
Although, to be fair, there’s plenty of (very) dry humour in his comments; asked by Richardson (who is a pillock, let it be said) how his parents must be feeling after his semi-final win over Tsonga, he replied “I’ve no idea. I’m not really that bothered. It’s a lot harder for me, that’s for sure.”
Murray keeps a wall around himself because he has to if he wants to get where he’s going. When that wall chinked after Federer won yesterday, as it was bound to do (and as it did two and a half years ago when Federer beat Murray at the Australian Open final – “I can cry like Roger, I just can’t play like him” was Murray’s comment), I’m not ashamed to say that I had tears in my eyes too. Which isn’t uncommon these days at displays of irresistible, real human emotion, to be fair. Was it the “real” Murray we saw here? It was only as real as when he politely answers inane questions the second after walking off-court. Everything you do is part of who you are, not just the bits that other people decide are profound.
I’ve seen people say that Murray shouldn’t have cried yesterday, that he didn’t win because he just isn’t good enough, and that we shouldn’t celebrate a loser. I think that’s wrong. Murray’s getting better; his four major finals so far have been against Federer (3) and Djokovic (1). Federer is, everyone keeps saying, the greatest tennis player ever, and when Djokovic beat Murray he was in the midst of the single most successful season any male tennis player has ever played. But Federer’s first Major win came over Mark Philippoussis, who never won a Major. Nadal’s was over Mariano Puerto, who only ever reached that one final. Djokovic’s was over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who Murray’s beaten 6 times out of 7; they’re all relatively easy ways to win your first Major. Murray is good enough to win, and will get better. He’s also younger than all of them except Djokovic (who’s exactly a week younger than Murray), so he has the time to get better, too.
So if you’re crowing that Murray’s not good enough, give it time. If you’re crowing that he’s not personable enough, go and Sky+ Alan Carr shows. Murray’s the only person who’s ever made me cry over a game of tennis. (Except it’s not a game for him; it’s a lifetime of ambition and work and hope.)
Hats off too, to Jonathan Marray, who shouldn’t be forgotten in the fuss about his near-surnamesake.
Also, we shouldn’t forget the real last Britain to win Wimkbledon; Virginia Wade in 1977.