I was surely far from alone sitting teary eyed after Andy Murray’s epic Australian Open match last week. Although he was defeated, the heart-felt cheers echoing around the court made it feel like his greatest victory, and, in many ways, it was. The outpouring of pride and respect from fans, peers, and even media, confirmation that the one-time ‘unlikeable Scot’ of yesteryear is now firmly, and rightfully, established as a national hero.
Despite speculation, only Murray knows if that was his last competitive outing. We selfishly hope his damaged hip, or surgery, will at least grant him the adoring farewell he deserves at Wimbledon, but at present it’s uncertain. One thing is for sure though, having given everything to the point of jeopardising his health, he really doesn’t owe us that ‘farewell’. In fact, Murray owes his country and sport absolutely nothing.
When he first arrived on the scene, as an awkward teenager, Murray obviously had great potential, but the public scrutiny and burden of expectation weighed heavily. Admittedly, at times, he did little to dispel the press-created image of a dour, English-hating Scotsman with a pushy mother. But you can hardly blame him for rebuffing those who constantly painted him as the anti-hero, declaring he simply ‘didn’t want it enough’ following his confidence denting Grand-Slam defeats.
Then something changed.
Ironically the turning point, for both his career and public perception, came via another defeat, in the 2012 Wimbledon final. Murray played his heart out, but still Roger Federer came out on top. The disappointment was palpable, and, in that moment, he could no longer hold it all inside. The floodgates finally opened, emotions and tears flowing uncontrollably as he struggled to speak. Suddenly the masses saw what some of us had known all along – just how much this really meant to Andy Murray.
His stature grew even further when, just a month later, he returned to Centre Court to face his nemesis. This time dominantly beating Federer to take his first Olympic gold. A month after that, he began rewriting British tennis history, winning his first Grand Slam. Murray the winner was unleashed.
The record books tell the story of what happened next, but Murray’s story is much more than long-awaited titles, trophies and statistics. It’s about his own journey from dour, determined teen to darling of the tennis world, revered by the very people who maligned him. And, also, about how he rescued British tennis, taking us from cheering someone almost beating a top seed to crowning a Wimbledon champion.
But what happens now?
When I played as a teenager, things were so bad in British Tennis that I was listed as British No4, despite never having played a ranking match. Surely, we mustn’t return to those dark days now mighty Murray’s broken body can no longer take the strain.
So perhaps instead of discussing how much Murray owes us a final ‘hurrah’ at Wimbledon, we should consider how much tennis owes it to him to continue his legacy?