James Lawton: Murray's star quality comes from dedication – not the fame game
Saturday 27 June 2009
Andrew Murray had some brilliant reviews yesterday and they were no more than he deserved for a masterful performance on the Centre Court. Going relatively unnoticed, however, was his equally impressive reaction to the tumult of optimism his victory over the world's No 74-ranked player Ernests Gulbis of Latvia had created in SW19 and beyond.
Murray, 22, handled it all with the aplomb of someone who seemed to know most of what you need to know about tennis and quite a bit of what goes on in the wider world.
Some inside a sport which isn't famous for such a range of perspective, not to mention grown-up behaviour, are attributing this steadily rising level of assurance to the natural maturing of an intelligent young man.
Others say that really we are discussing here a personality remake of startling proportions, something fashioned by the guru of celebrity exploitation, Simon Fuller, whose organisation 19 Entertainment Limited claims to be "redefining the rules of entertainment" with such mega-personalities as Mr and Mrs David Beckham.
Let's hope not and suspect not in the case of Murray, an authentic Wimbledon challenger who on Thursday night needed no more elaborate tutoring than a simple exhortation to be himself. He was, we have to believe, and the result in front of the microphone was as reassuring as the one out on the court. The attention of an image-maker seemed somewhat irrelevant at a place where producing brilliant tennis, and not mistaking it for the greatest thing that ever happened in the history of mankind, seemed guaranteed to produce the best possible effect.
He was a poised debunker of any idea that beating a talented but extremely inconsistent maverick from the shores of the Baltic constituted anything more than a routine step towards a possibly career- defining collision with Roger Federer in an increasingly likely final in eight days' time. What this might achieve in terms of entertainment, redefined or otherwise, cannot be taken absolutely for granted, but certainly the prospect is enticing. Murray, meanwhile, is giving us every reason to believe he will take the good or the bad pretty much in his stride.
After the destruction of Gulbis he was invited to give himself 10 out of 10 for his utterly hazard-free three-set triumph. He politely declined, saying: "Well, it was very good. I don't want to give myself marks. I thought I played well.
Served really good for the whole match. Apart from the very first game where he had a couple of chances on my serve, I didn't give him another break point. You can always do things better. But I stayed focused on my own service. Yeah, it was very solid."
Solid, yes, that has been the word for Murray at Wimbledon this week. The theory that he is being groomed to be the acceptable face of British tennis, even Home Counties, bourgeois, "yes we always win our tickets in the club lottery, don't we Charles?" tennis, is in fact quite a strong one.
In this way of thinking, Murray has a great weight of unacceptable behaviour to jettison.
Really? Well, yes, once, when he was 18, he denounced the performance of himself and his opponent in a highly incorrect way. He said: "We played like women." The demonising might have been only slightly less sharp had he been caught wearing a swastika on the front page of a tabloid. What he meant, he explained in some bewilderment, was there had been quite a few breaks of serve.
Of course nothing could quite match the horror felt in middle England when he made, in a jokey and what he could reasonably have thought to be an off-the-record situation, a remark which no self-respecting Scotsman would ever disown. He said that his sympathies in the World Cup of 2006 naturally lay with anyone who found themselves facing England.
This was not prejudice, this was an amiably expressed reality, and so was English mirth when the Scots had a World Cup celebration at Hampden Park before they went to Argentina in 1978 – where they lost to Peru, drew with Iran and, naturally, scored a superb if meaningless victory over the Dutch, the eventual finalists.
That such trivia should be used to shape character assessments of Murray among the denizens of the Centre Court is staggering – so is the idea, on recent evidence, that there is a pressing need to remodel the image of this outstanding young sportsman.
This week it was a personality in full and very appealing working order. After taking apart Gulbis, who had accused him of cheating before the game – a claim Murray had earlier and quietly dismantled – he faced a barrage of questions which, however banal, were all fielded with an easy touch and some considerable wit. He was particularly droll, without ever risking being hauled off to the Tower, when dealing with questions about a letter from the Queen and the fact that he tended to pay fewer forfeits than members of his entourage after the daily football kickabout.
Murray explained that he receives quite a bit of mail during Wimbledon, most of which, for obvious reasons of time, goes unread. However, it was pointed out to him that one of this week's crop had come from the Queen. Yes, he explained he opened it when he was told from where it came. You would, wouldn't you, said Murray with a small, dry chuckle.
He explained that he paid least forfeits because he tended to be better than his opponents, especially when losing required you to prepare someone's lunch or walk around in a cricket helmet.
There was also the wistful admission that sometimes the tour can be less than embracing: "You know, when Tim [Henman] was around I would go out for dinner with him a lot when we were at the same tournaments and practice together. It's why I like having a few guys to travel with me each week because, tennis can get a little lonely sometimes."
It is the kind of thing reshaped and redefined superstars don't often say. It implies real life preoccupations – and a pair of feet which seem firmly planted in reality. No, we don't need a redefined and represented Andrew Murray. The real thing is doing more than passably well.
Playing two-week blame game misses the point
If there is any heart-beating left to do over the palsied showing here of British tennis players apart from Andy Murray, it should perhaps be directed at the reality that has been pointed out by his brother, Jamie.
The 2007 Wimbledon mixed doubles champion says if you are a working-class kid in Britain it is extremely difficult to play tennis. It is not part of school schedules, it tends to be expensive, and it is much easier to toss the youngsters a big round ball.
There is another truth, of course. In eight days no one will give a damn about how many Andy Murrays are in the pipeline, so perhaps we should hold up a little on all the blame and the indignation. It just wouldn't wash anywhere and any time outside the frenzy of two weeks of Wimbledon.
Here's to a last hurrah from Hewitt
What a wonderful Wimbledon story it would be, Lleyton Hewitt, the old champion finding again the best of himself at the age of 28 and after career-threatening hip surgery.
This is especially so for those of us who perhaps overreacted to his slaughter of David Nalbandian in the 2002 final.
Someone, unbelievably you may think, suggested in the brief interlude between the departure of Pete Sampras and the arrival of Roger Federer, that Hewitt might be the future of tennis. That probably explains the enthusiastic reaction in this corner when Hewitt, a little grizzled and not so fast as he was, overwhelmed the hugely hyped Juan Martin del Potro.
"It was great to produce the result in front of some old Aussies," said Hewitt, "and who knows what's going to happen now?"
The hard word is that if Andy Roddick doesn't get him, Andy Murray will. According to one veteran, "Hewitt got his act to work one more day, working the crowd, hustling and he was always fast ... but the future of tennis, give me a break."
Perhaps Hewitt and at least one of his admirers, no names, no pack drill, will continue to dream an ageing dream.
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