James Lawton: Murray can finally win over critics by beating Roddick
British No 1 deserves the support of doubters that remain among the Centre Court crowds
Friday 03 July 2009
It might be different if Andy Murray had been born in Bromley or Tunbridge Wells or his great grandmother was an innovative over-arm server in Victorian Wimbledon, like Tim Henman, or he had renounced his Scottish blood the first time he crossed Hadrian's Wall.
Then it would have been unthinkable that in his march to become the first British male tennis player to reach the final here since Henry "Bunny" Austin was slaughtered by American Donald Budge 71 years ago he would have felt the need to ask for the support of the Centre Court crowd.
Unfortunately Wimbledon is still in some ways a bit of a vicarage tea party, hierarchical in a bourgeois sort of way, and however brilliantly Murray has played this last week or so there has been an unbreakable certainty, whatever the effusions of Sue Barker and her colleagues in the broadcasting booth.
It is one that will almost certainly re-surface again if there is even a hint of crisis in his semi-final with Andy Roddick this afternoon.
If it should happen Murray will pump his fists and suggest that the Centre Court gets behind its man, as it did so warmly in the days of Henman.
The trouble is that the identity of the Centre Court's man was not totally obvious even in last Monday night's five-set spectacular against an opponent who as far as the non-tennis cognoscenti were concerned was the Swiss who came from nowhere, Stanislas Wawrinka.
It was then that Murray almost plaintively asked for support. It came, volubly enough in the end, but only after the kind of late-night excitement that a few years ago might have caused an avalanche on Henman Hill.
In these circumstances Henman, whose great grandmother was a Wimbledon pioneer and who played his first tennis on the family grass court in Oxfordshire, would have probably needed to do no more than roll his eyes to guarantee the required reaction.
Certain points need to be made on Murray's behalf as he seeks to press on in historic mode while so close to Sunday's likely final against the master Roger Federer. He didn't court ecstatic popular acclaim at the start of his crusade to become one of the world's most significant players – and nor is he prostrating himself in its pursuit now.
He is simply making the practical point that among all the intangibles of winning major sports events a body of strong support is an extremely valuable asset.
That he should have to more or less apply for such assistance almost certainly says more about his audience than himself.
We have already touched on one reason why Murray is running below Henman levels of support in SW19. He is not, frankly, quite the natural Wimbledon sort, if you know what is meant by that.
Not a Gorbals street kid, of course, not by any means, but then also demonstrably not a typical product of the middle-class society which, with the odd exception like Roger Taylor, the left-hander of Sheffield steel-working stock who reached three Wimbledon semi-finals, has generally produced what has passed for the cream of English men's tennis.
When you think that Henman, who so splendidly marshalled all of his available talent, represented with his run of semi-final appearances the most celebrated of this tradition since the war, it is maybe understandable that Murray is seen by many as a dramatic change in style and personality, someone perhaps not so easily assimilated by the Wimbledon crowd.
No more so, indeed, than Nick Faldo at Wentworth or Royal St George's when he came striding out of Welwyn Garden City so resolutely as a teenager.
Faldo had rough edges too – and nor did he bother to smooth them out in his pursuit of the highest success. Murray is now receiving expensive image counselling, but you also wonder about the value of this because if Murray has softened his approach since his first, somewhat tetchy arrival as a serious tennis player he is still plainly himself.
It is a persona which has filled this Wimbledon with a substance that so far has been rivalled only by the five-time champion Roger Federer. Now here is somebody who, but for his Swiss nationality, is very much Wimbledon's cup of Earl Grey. He is both an institution and something of a heart-throb and beside him there were times when Murray's spiky style inevitably suffered.
Now though Wimbledon has to make something of a commitment on the day when Federer faces the German veteran Tommy Haas and Murray seeks to contain the revived furies of the hard-serving, hard-running American Andy Roddick. Wimbledon has to say, unequivocally, that Murray is indeed the man and, furthermore, one better equipped to win the title here than anyone since the similarly blunt Fred Perry picked up the last of his three in 1936.
Murray, like Faldo, is above all a performer, a winner and his situation is known well enough by the man who won six major tournaments and was knighted in the last honours list. A fairly catastrophic Ryder Cup captain, about as clubbable as a wounded wolverine, Faldo was strongest in the business of beating the world rather than charm contests.
He said once: "The British people may understand how tough it is to fight your way to success but what they don't seem to understand is how it is staying there. You just have to go in a tunnel, you have to fight right up until the time you stop doing it. This doesn't always make you the most popular person on a golf course, but you can only tackle things the way you have decided will best help your career."
Murray made such a resolve some time ago and here today, and perhaps on Sunday afternoon, Wimbledon is able to examine quite what he has achieved up to now. What is it precisely? It is an unswerving presence in the top flight of world tennis. He has proved himself an achiever of rare quality, not just another lost British cause with a nice smile and bags of spirit.
What he is so clearly is the real thing. It means that what he deserves most today is a real cheer. Something spontaneous, something that indicates that the Centre Court really knows what has been going on these last few days.
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