Andy Murray is one of the greatest tennis players Britain has ever produced, but too long have we laboured under the misapprehension that he is boring and unworthy of our support.
When he first emerged on the world tennis stage as a talented youngster we heaped the hopes of a nation on his inexperienced shoulders and demanded he offer up charisma in return – a reasonable expectation were Murray the latest teen popstar or Hollywood hopeful, but he’s not. He plays tennis, extraordinarily well, and never asked to grace the front pages of newspapers or trend on Twitter.
To begin with he was famously camera shy, branded a grumpy Scot who wanted nothing to do with our foolhardy British patriotism. But as he’s matured, Murray has come into his own in front of the global media, revealing glimpses of his dry sense of humour and self-effacing nature both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. Take this 2011 sketch for Red Nose Day – a surly sportsman would hardly agree to self-mockery on national television…
And sports mad Andy doesn’t just save his competitiveness for the tennis court – famous for their epic matches at Grand Slam tournaments, he and long-time friend and rival Rafael Nadal spend their evenings battling for victory on the PlayStation when they end up staying in the same hotels. Meanwhile, Murray and his Queens semi-final opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga passed last Sunday’s numerous rain delays by squaring up across the table tennis table, although no word on who emerged the winner.
Over in the training camp, Team Murray have become well known for the challenges and forfeits designed to liven up their relentless schedule. Under the stewardship of former coach Brad Gilbert, games of tennis-football used to result in cruel forfeits, from doing press ups and kissing feet to braving ice baths without wearing shorts. Murray’s even been known to dress in women’s clothing – and apparently the loser of each bet is banned from explaining their antics. “If someone asks you what it’s for, you’re not allowed to tell them that you’ve lost a bet,” reveals Murray. “You just have to say that you like it.”
While he has since parted ways with Gilbert, Murray shares an understated camaraderie with current coach Ivan Lendl, the former world number one who is credited with turning the Scot into the Grand Slam champion he has become. Famously stony-faced while his charge is competing on-court, last week’s charity match at Queen’s revealed a closely competitive friendship between the two, climaxing in spectacular fashion when the world number two socked a volley right at his coach, leaping around the court as he rejoiced hitting him square on. “Having been with Andy for 18 months, I know he would trade it for the Olympic gold,” quipped Lendl afterwards.
The charity match in question, Rally Against Cancer, may have been a light-hearted occasion but the cause behind it is one close to Murray’s heart. His best friend Ross Hutchins organised the event to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital where he’s currently being treated for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Murray dedicated a recent victory at the Brisbane Open to his former doubles partner, fighting back tears to deliver the message, “You’re going to get through it,” to his pal.
And it’s not the first time he’s battled against his emotions in public – who could forget that Wimbledon speech following his defeat to Roger Federer in last year’s final? “Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon – how tough it is,” he sobbed to Centre Court and a TV audience of nearly 17 million. “But it’s not the people watching – they make it so much easier to play. The support’s been incredible so thank you.”
Physically and emotionally exhausted after throwing everything he had at Federer, it was the first time he’d relaxed with a microphone in his hands and the result worked wonders for his reputation. After that day no one could accuse Andy Murray of lacking in passion and he went on to reward us a month later with Olympic gold and silver medals, followed by his hard-fought US Open title in September.
Since he was thrust onto the world stage back in 2006, Murray has evolved from a media-shy teenager into a fully-fledged sports personality who, although not entirely at ease with the cameras, has at least learnt to court them. He’s given us tears, humour, glorious victories and painful losses, first class tennis and, most importantly, a reason to get excited about Wimbledon, besides the strawberries and Pimm’s. So let’s forget the past and get behind our people’s champion.