Andy Murray: A Champion Is (Almost) Born (Again)…

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Andrew McQuillan reckons Murray’s mint.

The various omens and portents were there: the weather was awful; it was a Jubilee year as it was in 1977 when Virginia Wade was the last British player to win a singles title at Wimbledon, and Hearts and Hibs had played each other in a Scottish Cup Final in the same year as the last time a Scot had tasted success at the All England Club. All in all, if ever there was a more British summer for Andy Murray to triumph, this was it. His stars, it would seem, had aligned in the shape of a massive celestial Union Flag. It certainly felt that way after the first set.

However, as we now know, Federer triumphed as he has so often before, with brusque and beautifully calculated play. Yet, this was a truly watershed moment for the perception of tennis in this country that its importance cannot be overlooked.

I’m a casual observer of tennis. (By that I mean that I only watch Wimbledon. What can I say? The sultry draw of Sue Barker is too much to resist.) However, one thing abundantly obvious to me over the past decade was that British tennis desperately needed a champion. Tim Henman was never going to be that man; I do not mean this as an insult, but he was simply too goofy, too Middle England, and not good enough to be a dynamic poster boy for the game. Herein lies the problem; the Lawn Tennis Association in this country had for far too long been overly comfortable with a string of well-heeled, well-meaning and affable fools; think of the human vacuum that is Andrew Castle as the most sterling example of Hugh Grant mould. He now sells accident insurance – Castle not Grant. In ten years, he’ll probably be selling walk in baths with which you get a free pen “just for inquiring”. A tolerance of “jobs for the boys” mediocrity will get you only so far.

Then, at the different end of the jolly hockey sticks spectrum, we find Jeffrey “Buster” Mottram. When not dashing around the tennis courts of the world, Mottram would spend his time advocating the policies of Enoch Powell and what a great bunch of fellows the boys over at the National Front were. He was last seen being expelled from the UK Independence Party for trying to broker a deal with the British National Party.

The British public as a result, have been served up beige or bonkers individuals as the men to carry our hopes at Wimbledon each year. Add in that most them were of “limited ability”, there was little to get excited about.

Then, from the far reaches of the North, not the sun kissed lands of the Home Counties, came a lanky, abrupt and at times unlovable Scot. The difference was, he was good. He could reach finals and occasionally he could mix it with the best, at a time when arguably the upper echelons of tennis have never been better stocked with champions. This summer, as he fought his way to the final at Wimbledon, Murray, man and player had matured ten fold. All though he didn’t win, he has come closer than most to lifting the curse of Fred Perry. In that alone there is hope, but at the same time, the public perception of Murray changed. His emotional interview moistened many eyes (my own included). Any accusations of him not caring or being almost unemotional to the point of being detached from humanity were swept away. This was a moment on a par with when Gazza’s tears watered the pitch at the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin at the 1990 World Cup.

By bearing himself open to us, Murray has won us on his side, even some of those Englishmen who despised his Scottish pride and “Anyone But England” jibes. Tennis now has a standard bearer that the country can be proud of. An aggressive player who is equally human, one of us. While it strays away from the notion of a stiff upper lip which dogs part of the British stereotype, it is exactly what tennis needed in Britain: a public revamp and a winner (sort of). All we need now is a trophy to add to the good feeling. As many a heckler on Centre Court would say, “Come on Andy!”.

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