Jez Denton @DentonJez has put fingers to keyboard to write about Andy Murray (The photos are from the ATP Finals, I was lucky enough to watch Andy play a couple of years ago)
In being beaten in the first round of the Australian Open, the curtain may well have come down on the career of Sir Andy Murray, Britain’s greatest tennis player of the modern era and one of the very best sportspersons to have come from our country. Someone who has, over the years, divided opinion and courted controversy. But whom has never ever given anything but his very best, something even his biggest detractors could not take away from him.
Today’s result, in losing 3 sets to 2 against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, is perhaps a fitting finale for what has been a stellar career, albeit one that has been beset with injury and struggles. Losing the first two sets, no one could have had any complaints had Murray rolled over and had his tummy tickled; he could have walked off that court with head held high and blamed a lack of fitness, match sharpness and that troublesome hip that hasn’t allowed him to perform at the very highest standards, the high standards he sets himself and which destroy him mentally when he doesn’t achieve them. The fact he didn’t do that is because that isn’t in his makeup, Andy Murray isn’t a quitter. We’ve seen that over the years, with those attributes we’ve associated with other great Scottish sportspeople; the tenaciousness of a Billy Bremner, the sheer bloody mindedness of a Finlay Calder or the attention to detail and perfection of a Stephen Hendry; attributes that perhaps, ironically, have resulted in his now premature retirement today or later in the year at Wimbledon. Could Andy have taken it easier through his career, perhaps not run after all those lost causes? Almost certainly yes, other than that’s not what Murray does.
Where does Andy Murray sit in the pantheon of British sports? He is without doubt a great, but is he the greatest? For sure, he deserves to be mentioned alongside Steve Redgrave, Mo Farah, Stephen Hendry, Jackie Stewart et al. But there is one thing that sets him apart from many of his peers and contemporaries. Andy Murray got to the top in his sport at a time when that sport was blessed with three of the greatest players ever to have graced the game, at a time when the level of competition was probably as great as it could be. To win 3 Grand Slams and be runner up 8 times, to be Olympic champion twice, to lead GB to a win in The Davis Cup whilst Djokovic, Nadal and Federer were sweeping all before them marks him out as something special. Amongst the other greats of British sport, he is almost unique in not being the very best in the world of their sport when amassing titles and achievements. In a country that admires and fetes the underdog Murray often won from that position.
Sure, as a personality, there may have been a couple of misjudged comments earlier in his career. There were certainly times when he came over as surly and uncommunicative. Indeed, there may well have been moments when he perhaps didn’t reach out to all. But, does that really matter? To me no as the one thing you always got from Andy Murray is that he cared, he wanted to perform, and he wanted to be the very best he could. And all the time he showed dissent, displeasure or made grudging comment to the media it wasn’t them or us he was dismissive of; it was his disappointment in his own performance that coloured his demeanour.
When all is said and done, Andy Murray has, for a decade or so, not only performed at his best but has raised the level of tennis in this country. Because of him we now have a far more thriving game in the UK with players like Kyle Edmonds breaking into the world top 50 and reaching the later stages of Grand Slam tournaments themselves. No longer is British tennis looked upon as a bit of a joke, an easy tie, a knock up at a tournament for the big stars. British tennis is respected. And this is a respect that Andy Murray gave back to the sport. Over the years when other players have criticised the desire for equality between the men’s and women’s game Murray was a voice that came out in support of his fellow female athletes. Murray has never been afraid to voice the controversial opinions that needed voicing. Like his play he never shirked a challenge meeting them head on with desire, commitment and, above all, honesty.
Whether Andy Murray makes it to Wimbledon remains to be seen. For sure he deserves one last hurrah on centre court, to go out in front of both his adoring fans and those who respect just exactly what he has achieved for himself, his country and his sport. And when I say Wimbledon centre court, now is the time for it to be called, surely, The Sir Andy Murray Centre Court?