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Murray’s mint


I’ve never been to a tennis match and probably never will to be honest. I doubt that the close proximity to all them Pimms-upped poshos would be good for my blood pressure. And I rarely watch it on the telly either. Aside from Wimbledon there are few opportunities to see it on the box these days without lining Murdoch’s already comfortably lined pockets. Which makes it odd that I bloody love Andy Murray. It’s probably the most love I’ve felt for any sportsperson who doesn’t kick a ball around or wield willow or leather for a very long time. Possibly since Alex Higgins in his early eighties pomp.

I’m not sure exactly when this love affair was ignited but it might have been around the time that a youthful Murray was asked who he wanted to win the football World Cup and he replied, with tongue firmly in cheek, “anyone but England”. Cue little Ingerlunders flying off the handle all over the shop but I loved it. And why the hell would he want England to win the World Cup anyway, he’s a Scot after all. But it’s not only that deadpan sense of humour that I find a bit of a turn-on but also his apparent shyness and awkwardness around talking to the media.

In a world that increasingly expects all our well-paid, media-trained stars of sport, stage and screen to be “larger than life” role models always ready with an easy smile and a sound-bite quote when a microphone is thrust towards them it’s somehow refreshing to observe someone who finds the whole thing something akin to visiting the dentist for some root canal work. It might lack the intensity of the I-want-your-babies man love that I feel for a certain Franco-Mancunian footballer but this slow burning affection for a fellow member of the diffident, slightly awkward squad is powerful nonetheless.

But despite this admiration, I rarely watch Murray play tennis as I get too nervous. I’ve always struggled watching or listening to sports events on the television or radio when I’m really rooting for one of the participants; I spent large chunks of the 1983 FA Cup final riding round the block on my bike, stomach churning and even now, when I can’t make it to a match, I rarely listen to FC United on the radio, preferring instead to check the latest score on Twitter and maybe tune in for the final few minutes if we’re winning. It’s different when you’re there at the match; you can scream, shout, sing or just get pissed as a means of coping with the tension. Watching or listening from afar can be emotionally draining.

So on that Sunday afternoon in 2013 when Andy Murray won Wimbledon for the first time instead of being glued to the box like millions of others I was in full-on hiding-behind-the-sofa-while-the-Daleks-are-on mode scrolling through Twitter to check on his progress with the oohs and aahs of neighbouring flats stoking the tension; was that an “ooh” of admiration for a Djokovic cross-court winner or a relieved “aah” as the Scot clinches a break point with a well executed overhead smash?

Then when he was two sets up and serving for the match I finally felt comfortable enough to switch the telly on and watch that gruelling final game, its ebb and flow producing almost a match within a match, which finally ended with an exhausted Murray becoming the first British man to win the Wimbledon men’s title in seventy seven years. As he lifted the trophy I headed to the kitchen to make a brew mentally drained by an afternoon fiddling with my phone. Thankfully when he won his first grand slam tournament at the US Open the match took place in the middle of the night sparing me four hours of frenetic Twitter scrolling.

It seems a long time now since the final weeks of the 2016 season when Murray finished the season as world number one after winning what seemed like a tournament every week for several weeks in order to amass sufficient ranking points to claim the number one berth. It was an incredible effort that in hindsight may have had a longer term effect on his form and fitness in 2017. He’s been out of action since exiting Wimbledon last year and possibly won’t play again until this summer having undergone hip surgery in Australia earlier this year. By then he’ll have slipped down the rankings but hopefully will return fitter and ready to take on the world again.

Despite his lack of game time in 2017 the finest sporting moment of the year, without a doubt, occurred after Murray had been knocked out of Wimbledon by Sam Querrey. Murray was the defending champion but had gone into the tournament not fully fit and it must have irked him that, having played the last two sets against Querrey on virtually one leg, he wasn’t able to defend his title properly and exited the tournament so meekly. In the press conference afterwards he was asked by an American reporter for his thoughts on Querrey becoming the first American player in many years to make it to the Wimbledon semi-finals – the reporter plainly choosing to ignore half the players at Wimbledon and the Williams sisters’ domination of the tournament in recent times.

Murray, though, wasn’t prepared to tolerate such casual sexism and interjected with “male player” before the reporter had even had chance to spit out his question. The look on Murray’s face was an absolute picture of disgust, barely able to make eye contact with the reporter as he is asked to repeat his comment before the reporter belatedly recognises his error and guffaws nervously and goes “yes, first male player, that’s for sure”. Stick your SPOTY, aside from the football supporters of Cologne invading the Emirates en masse, this was the finest sporting moment of 2017.

It’s wonderful to hear such a high profile male sporting figure react so quickly to the sort of lazy, casual sexism that has surrounded sport for years – this wasn’t someone monotonously reciting carefully scripted lines to assuage a multi-million pound sponsor, it was an instinctive from-the-heart response from someone who is not afraid to speak out on an important issue. And it was a timely reminder too that we must all do our bit to stamp out this sort of lazy sexism – whether it be at work, down the pub, playing or watching sport or on social media.

Murray has made no secret of his support for women’s tennis acknowledging the huge influence of his mother Judy on his career and in 2014 he became the first winner of a men’s grand slam tournament to recruit a female trainer when he appointed former Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo as his coach. A move that was greeted with cynicism in some quarters – the notion of a successful sportsman being successfully coached by a successful sportswoman was seemingly too much for some to contemplate.

Serena Williams however says that Murray’s efforts to ensure that women’s tennis isn’t merely treated as a glamorous sideshow to the main event are hugely appreciated on the women’s tour. Big deal you might think. But when Hope Solo, the longstanding US women’s football team goalkeeper and a World Cup winner and two-time Olympic gold medallist, states that “sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour are rampant at every level in women’s sport and it needs to stop” you realise that, actually yes, this is a big fucking deal. Particularly when it’s set in the context of the last twelve months when barely a day seems to have passed without news of some sexual scandal rocking the worlds of entertainment, sport or politics.

It’s possible that we may be only weeks away from some allegations of tax avoidance or for him to be outed as a lifelong Tory or a Liverpool fan or summat. Or for Andy Murray to make a tit of himself on social media like Lewis Hamilton. I doubt it though, he just seems like a sound lad to me. Either way, he might not have played for ages and he’s probably missed so many tournaments that he’s not even in the world’s top one thousand tennis players by now but let’s take a moment to bask in the magnificence of Scotland’s number one male tennis player Andy Murray. We’re lucky to have him around.


From → Sport

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