It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with tennis. Both playing, and watching. Twice a week matches (and weekends of acting out whatever the sporting equivalent of a stage mama is) if I’m lucky, even if I’m occasionally pretending to be in an important “meeting” whilst on court. White lies in whites.
And I, like everyone else, have followed Andy Murray’s career over the years, chewing my nails, praying and commiserating, and then celebrating, and celebrating again. I was breastfeeding my son the summer of 2005, the year of Murray’s first wild-card Wimbledon, and remember being struck by the skinny sulky Scotsman in my baby-reverie. I’d grown up idolising McEnroe and Borg, Edberg and Agassi, as well as Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini. Murray was different. Less showbiz, less likely…
I’ve never met Andy but I’ve watched him, awestruck, both at Wimbledon and at the O2, sometimes forgetting to breathe. Murray grew up all over again under the so-very-British vainglorious spotlight of double-edged rooting and cheering whilst expecting the worst, his ultimate glory all the sweeter for it. June 2013. A nation danced, united.
I’ve also been lucky to watch him play doubles with his brother Jamie, as my eyes often wandered to their mother Judy, teeth-gritted fist-pumping in the players’ box, imagining both her pride and her sacrifice. Her role in driving the next generation of British tennis cannot be underestimated. Sometimes at Wimbledon, I’d get lucky with a glimpse of the Murray brothers hitting on the practise courts under her watchful eye, serious and focused but punctuated with jokes and cursing, all so very reassuringly normal despite the pressure.
His appointment of Amélie Mauresmo as his coach, and subsequent (unnecessarily necessary) straightforward defence of her as simply the best person for the job, spoke volumes. Murray’s much-discussed “feminism” is born of integrity and practical accuracy, and innate respect.
I was distractedly driving home after dropping my daughter at school on Friday, flicking between radio stations as I always do whilst wishing I’d got it together to download an audiobook or podcast, or a playlist at very least, when Murray’s emotional press conference got my attention – fast. I pulled over. (My Mini also had sudden strange flashing tyre-alerts so I was extra-grateful for the distraction.)
I felt both overwhelmed by his achievements and deeply moved by his re-definition of alpha-masculinity over the years, all tempered by fragile, in-the-moment, off-script honesty as the hero wanders stage left into the unknown. It felt as if he was suddenly facing and imagining a new inevitability of surrender along with his fans, and the world’s press. In real time.
I’ll quote my friend, photographer Chris Floyd who, in an open reflection on a 2005 ESPN shoot via Instagram, eloquently sums up the bittersweet complexity of Murray’s character.
“You were annoyed that they had sent an English photographer and not an American one. We had really antagonistic English/Scottish banter in the car on the way to the beach… You were also really sarcastic and funny. I enjoyed it. And then you left me four tickets on the gate for the tournament you were playing in the next day.”
It ends with kindness. And connection.
A true champion, who let us see the pain and sacrifice – and tragi-comedy asides, as well as the shiny gold rewards. Tennis noir.
My Scottish friends, who rightly claim Murray as their own, threw me a bone. “He’s from the next village…”, “He likes a pint at X…”, “My mother knows his brother…”
But I don’t need to meet my heroes. Simply to watch and learn. And to talk to my son, and my daughter, about how grace and honesty, win or lose, make a true champion.
It’s important to mention the tragedy of Dunblane, and the fact that Andy and Jamie were both primary school pupils there on the day that 16 children and a teacher were shot dead in 1996. A community that desperately needed a hero, and found one.
I’ll miss watching Murray play, especially as the end feels premature, forced not chosen. The rebellion of the body despite and in spite of infinite desire and ambition. But as I watch my kids get ready to beat me on court, I know how much of their passion (and mine) is owed to his influence, and I’m sure future British champions, male and female, will feel the same.
Murray’s next chapter is just beginning, but somehow by seemingly not really needing to be loved, by taking his time and playing his game his way, he won it all. Hearts and minds and Grand Slams. Purely. Without compromise.
Thank you Andy, for the heart-soaring inspiration, the reality checks, and the Scottish smiles and wiles, already the stuff of legend.