The sun is shining, the economy is recovering, the victorious Lions are heading home after their hugely successful tour and after 77 years of heartache a British tennis player has finally won Wimbledon!
Since Andy Murray first stepped out onto the grass courts of SW19 as a wild card entry in 2005 at the tender age of 18, Britain and its media have put insane pressure on him to win the Championship title. It therefore came as no surprise to any of us that after his straight three set victory on Sunday afternoon all of our national newspaper covers were adorned with photographs of a jubilant Murray hoisting the 18.5 inch silver gilt cup above his head with great pride. There are already whispers of the 26 year old being Sir Andy Murray by the time he takes to our screens for Wimbledon fortnight in 50 weeks’ time and of course he is almost a dead cert for Sports Personality of the Year. That’s the fickle nature of us Brits though; we forget quite what we put this young star through to gain our affections.
There has been a long running joke surrounding Murray that he is British when he is winning but Scottish when he is losing. One of the reasons that we took so long to warm to the boy from Dunblane when he first started his tennis career was that he was reputed to be “anti-English”. This was all based on a throwaway comment that he had made in a press conference with Tim Henman, just before the 2006 football World Cup, saying he would be supporting England’s opponents having taken a ribbing from Henman that Scotland hadn’t qualified for the competition – as a result of this Murray became a villain receiving sack loads of hate mail. A few years later, and after much media training no doubt, Murray convincingly explained the comment away, pointing out that he lives in England, his girlfriend is English and so are all of his training staff; it had simply been an off the cuff remark said in jest, a joke he would have made down the pub to his English mates.
Many English tennis fans despise Murray because of this comment; others purely because he’s Scottish and many fans from Scotland, Wales and Ireland dislike him because he is sometimes referred to as British. The man can’t win, can he? To dislike someone simply because of their nationality is not only xenophobic, it’s utterly irrational, stupid and dangerous; it is an attitude that should be challenged at every opportunity. Murray is a world class tennis player who just happens to be from Scotland – that’s where nationality starts and ends.
After years of “nearly men” when another great hope came along in the form of Murray the passionately partisan British crowds watched him play, win matches, raise expectations to the skies, and then crumple under the pressure of it all like a pin pricked inflatable. Many people who didn’t worry about Murray’s nationality cheered for him, but shook their heads at his scowls and sulks in adversity. According to the pub commentators and armchair pundits Murray was mean-spirited and threw his toys out of his pram when the going got tough. Where was the grace on court of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic? Could we not at least have a few smiles? We seemed to forget the immense burden we had put upon those young shoulders or the fact that some great tennis players are battlers and some are entertainers – not many are equally successful at both.
I doubt that watching Andy Murray will ever be a fun experience, there will always be too much pain, anguish and doubt to give us a comfy ride but isn’t this the excitement that the British public secretly crave? Murray’s courage and iron determination are wondrous to behold, he really fought his way through this championship like a gladiator whose life hangs on every match. Who could fail to raise a glass to his historic achievement?
Instead of looking at someone’s nationality and making a judgment about whether or not they smile enough on a tennis court when desperate for victory, why not do a bit of research and try to find out what they are actually like as a human being? Shouldn’t a person be judged on their actions off camera and on how they treat others? Unless you follow tennis closely the only time you see or hear of Murray is when Wimbledon is on – he doesn’t court attention and for 50 weeks of the year you wouldn’t even know he was on planet Earth. He supposedly likes spending time with his family, his girlfriend, walking his dogs, playing computer games and watching movies. Surely this is a sign of what normal a young man he is.
Ross Hutchins, Murray’s best friend, was diagnosed with cancer seven months ago. When Murray won the Brisbane International title in January this year he dedicated his victory to Ross and last month, when he won the Queen’s Club tournament he donated his entire £75,000 winnings to the Royal Marsden Hospital – the hospital currently treating his friend. Minutes after winning at Queen’s Club, Murray took to the same court once more to take part in an exhibition match with Jonathan Ross, Boris Johnson and Sir Richard Branson. The event raised over £200,000 which was then donated to the charity “Rally Against Cancer”. If this is how Murray treats his friends then he has my vote. To me this is the mark of a real man.
The pressure of not having a British champion since 1936 is off and it is a great relief to all, especially a certain 26 year old, as at last the majority of the UK are on Murray’s side and reveling in his victory. Let’s remember this moment – yes, it’s fantastic to have a conqueror, but could any of us live up to the demands for perfection which we have placed on Murray? I certainly couldn’t. We all need to relax and stop subjecting Murray to a tug-of-war of identity and personality, and instead, celebrate his win as an exceptional accomplishment of an individual first.
Let that be it for the Murray doubters. Game, set and match.