In Britain the wait for a men’s singles Wimbledon champion continues. And Andy Murray can end it.
Personality can be more important to fans than ability in sports stars.
But is there any sport where it’s as important as tennis?
Those old enough to remember wooden rackets get misty-eyed over McEnroe, Connors and Nastase in their pomp. Giving the umpires backchat. Evert v Navratilova, completely different characters and styles. Graf v Seles, a big contrast in noise levels and personalities on court. Agassi and Ivanisevic.
And in the modern game there’s Serena, Sharapova and the supremely talented men’s top four, including Djokovic and his impressions.
And a big boo to those who succeeded with cold efficiency. From Ivan Lendl to Pete Sampras. Until their careers were near the end and in the case of Sampras the emotion came through. So we warmed to him.
In Britain the wait for a men’s singles Wimbledon champion continues. And Andy Murray can end it. But it’s not quite enough that Andy Murray the brilliant tennis player is looking more like Andy Murray: champion. We need him to be a personality too. It’s human nature, but let’s show a little restraint in this area please.
To recap the Andy Murray career story in its most simple terms
A proud Scotsman from Dunblane, he started his career to much excitement having honed his skills in Spain. Finally a contender. But his dour personal didn’t excite as much as his tennis potential.
As he was blossoming came a public relations disaster. During the 2006 football World Cup he had the temerity to suggest he wanted England to lose to Paraguay, outraging ‘middle England’. His defence was that he was joking, but I don’t know a single Scot who didn’t share his sentiment. So what’s the problem? Let him be a proud Scot. He is who he is. And by the way he is still far more a proud Scot that the PR managed well-rounded Brit you’ll read about in a media interview with him.
Then came the surge towards a Grand Slam. He threatened to win tournament after tournament. But it didn’t quite happen. And he was obviously not happy about that. A grumpy Murray. A loser. A hardcore of tennis fans adored him, but many casual observers were not feeling ‘Murraymania’.
The turning point came with a defeat not a victory. The tears after defeat in last year’s Wimbledon final against Roger Federer. He was distraught, and the millions watching felt his pain. When he destroyed Federer on the same court to win Olympic gold a month later the deal was sealed. Murray, a likeable winner.
And so it continued. I predicted that Olympic gold would be followed by a Grand Slam win, in the US Open. I’m not being wise after the event. I also predicted he’d win the Australian Open. He didn’t. But the monkey is off his back. He really can win Wimbledon. I agree with Goran Ivanisevic, this year or next he’ll do it.
And accompanying this tennis positivity is the public warmth. Taken to another level by his admirable public fundraising for friend Ross Hutchins, who is suffering from cancer. And he’s finally spoken about his horrifying childhood experience at the Dunblane school where 16 children and a teacher were killed by a gunman in 1996. Murray and classmates had hidden, the trauma of which is almost unimaginably bleak.
These are the experiences that make Andy Murray the person. Andy Murray the tennis player will win or lose Wimbledon and that’s the person his fans need to be cheering. Maybe he can feed off the crowd, yes. But it’s pure tennis ability that will give him hope if he gets to a final and plays Djokovic, not waves of emotion and support. Or adrenalin.
I can sense the subtle building of expectation over his personality. Let’s hit a pause button on that. He’s not a comedian or raconteur. He’s more comfortable with a Playstation than giving a good ‘interview’. Not that he lacks humour and sharpness. When one journalist said to him last year ‘why do you not smile or laugh more?', he replied ‘because you guys are simply not that funny’. Touche!
If his tennis does the talking and he becomes the first British winner since 1936, the first Scottish winner since 1896, he’ll be doing plenty of smiling and laughing. I’ll then be looking forward to seeing him take that smile into another grand slam tennis tournament, rather than joshing on a chat show.
He is Andy Murray, tennis player. And a very good one too.