By Euan Black
Tennis is a funny old game. Despite originating in good old Blighty the game is now dominated by the American and European players of the sport. Every so often a great hope will come along, shining like a beacon in a dark world of mediocrity. At the moment, that hope is Andy Murray.
2008 has been his best year so far. Winning the St Petersburg Open gave him his 5th title this year and his 23rd win in 25 ATP games.
Despite his obvious natural ability and 4th place world ranking, he has failed to capture the imagination of the British public the same way that “Tiger” Tim Henman annoyingly could. What is it about him that’s un-likeable, and was it always like that?
Andy burst onto the scene in 2005 when he reached the third rounds of the Stella Artois Championship and Wimbledon. Despite having to retire from both tournaments because of injury, his cultured style of play and the tenacity he showed on court earned him a massive following. “Tiger” Timmy , who had exited in the first round, had been usurped as the Great British hope of tennis.
This massive following continued as Murray shot up through the rankings, reaching the top 100 on the 29th September after beating Robin Soderling. His career rocketed as he posted impressive results throughout 2006 and 2007, beating the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. It was during this time that he was starting to be questioned by the media and fans.
Murray gained a reputation amongst reporters for being “petulant” and not answering their questions properly. A fine for swearing at an umpire during a Davis Cup tie and tongue-in-cheek comments about England’s World Cup hopes did little to endear him to fans and the media alike.
This is what is thought to have lead to sickening comments about the Dunblane School Massacre, something Murray has spoken little of in the past. Anonymous comments were posted on his website mocking him about his experience of the massacre, where he hid in a classroom as Thomas Hamilton shot dead 17 people.
Those moronic comments don’t reflect the view of the majority of his critics, who think he struggles to contain his emotions on court and doesn’t have the big game temperament to break into the top 3.
Nowadays, we are witnessing a more controlled, all rounded player. Murray has had an absolutely fantastic 2008, starting with wins in the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and the Marseille Open. He took the Cinncinati and Madrid ATP Masters and managed to carve his way to the final of the US Open, defeating Rafael Nadal along the way. He lost to Roger Federer in the final.
This year is evidence that his ability can’t be called into questioned. It seems that attitudes towards him are slowly changing because of his on-court success.
60% of people asked simply: “Do you like Andy Murray?” said yes. David Jess, 22, a sales assisstant from Glenrothes, proclaimed Murray as “a total legend”. Only 20% said “no” and the rest said they didn’t know who he is.
But why have fans at Wimbledon sometimes been lukewarm towards him?
Tim Henman was loved and adored by the strawberries-and-cream brigade at Wimbledon because he was a “valiant loser”. He was quintessentially English – a gentleman on and off the court.
“Tiger” Tim, for all his achievements in the game, had the charisma of a Tesco plastic bag. He never seemed to be bothered by the fact he was losing, and anytime he won a point, a little pump of the fist was all we got.
Anyone unconvinced of Hemnan’s lack of character would only have to listen to his BBC commentary for Wimbledon. They should have carried an advert for free sleeping aid before it.
Andy Murray has something of the John McEnroe about him. He always looks like he cares when he’s out on the court. While more recently he has managed to control his aggression, you still see him swearing when he slices one into the net or sends a forehand wide. You can see the fire burning in his eyes.
McEnroe is hailed today as one of the sport’s legends for winning loads of titles and is revered for the entertainment he gave us on the courts but at the height of his career he was lambasted for having similar personality traits. Does this mean that if Murray doesn’t win any of the Grand Slams, he’ll be forever condemned to hypocritical treatment from writers and fans?
Unfortunately, the only thing Andy Murray will be able to do to win over the people who criticise him is win an Open. And on his current form, few would bet against him doing that very soon.