Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Hail hero Andy, as he stands on summit at last

Andy Murray poses with the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy following his victory in the Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray poses with the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy following his victory in the Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic

It must have been like this when news arrived that Hillary and Tenzing had scaled Mount Everest.

Few would have thought they'd have seen it in their lifetime. Suddenly something that appeared unattainable, requiring so many things to go right, needing such a coincidence of personality, opportunity, skill and timing, seemed after the event to have been predictable and inevitable.

Well, Everest hadn't been conquered before and there had been a British winner at Wimbledon. But then the mounta ineering duo hadn't had the baleful company for generations of the likes of Dan Maskell, Buster Mottram and Sue Barker crammed into their backpacks as they reached for that last crampon to bring them over the ridge.

The altitude of Andy Murray's achievement can be measured in the legions of British hopefuls year after year since 1936, who tilted at the title and were found, for better or worse, wanting.

It's a symptom of the malaise in British tennis that Virginia Wade's triumph in 1977 never really counted as a "Wimbledon win". The Nation chose to hark back to Fred Perry, thereby heaping literally unbearable pressure on hugely talented players, like Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski.

But something in the life story of Andy Murray steeled him for what had become the ultimate challenge. Talent, determination, persistence, risk-taking and decisiveness – all qualities found in the great champions – might have counted for nothing had he not been able to find within himself the emotional resources necessary to defeat the biggest opponent of all: the expectations of the British people.

What a triumph. What a performance over the two weeks. What a hero.

If Murray were to chuck his racquet into the Thames and never set foot on a tennis court for the rest of his days, two things remain true. He will never surpass that achievement on Sunday. And he will remain a legend forever in the most accurate sense of that word. Already, he has become what his earliest desires would have made him become – Wimbledon champion. He is also reigning US Open champion. This isn't a freak result, this is the boss of tennis for the foreseeable future.

In a strange way, his opponent on Sunday occupied the same sort of space as Murray. Novak Djokovic had all the same national motivation, shots, madness and fitness as Murray. Nadal fell out. Federer fell away. But there was still Djokovic and his crazy backing from the incredible Serbs. Murray had to face that down and take his place at the top of the tree.

He had to replace Djokovic, not just beat him.

Now that has happened, it's possible to look back at Murray's life and see how the narrative suddenly makes sense. And yes it goes right back to that primary school in Dunblane, to the horror of that slaughter, to the coincidence of timing that meant he lived when others did not.

More than that, it goes back to how the legacy of that horror was transformed by him in the deepest places into something majestic and wonderful.

There's also his deep support for best friend Ross Hutchings, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma. Recently, Murray said he'd trade Wimbledon glory for his pal getting the all-clear. "There's a lot more to life than playing tennis," he said, and meant it.

Murray is a nice man – as indeed his opponent on Sunday is. Both are driven by bigger forces than personal ambition, though they are driven by that as well. How fitting that the contest on Sunday was genuinely between survivors.

Yes, it's only tennis. Yes, it's a bit silly – it's a multi-millionaire sport at the top end. But it's also an arena in the old sense, two people staring at each other in an epic contest. Fundamentally it's down to holding one's nerve, being oneself, going back again and again to the reserves of belief and instinct, which would leave most people exhausted and beaten.

What a guy. In a world full of egomaniacs in team sports, a world stuffed with wannabes of limited ability but unlimited brass neckery, we all have to stop for a moment and salute the heroes – the ones who do it when everything, including history and precedent, is stacked against them. This is one meaning of that much quoted poem If by Kipling, which hangs above the entrance to centre court, and why in our day and in sport, where there are no true casualties, there is still a heroism.

We should all look forward now to what Andy Murray can do for himself as a sportsman, now that every monkey who ever lived and died in Britain has been removed from his back. It'll be something to see – and we're lucky that we were around this time to see it happen.

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