Middle England should realise that our Andy is busy trying to win matches – not hearts

They are still out there, clearly. Maybe one of them drove your cab this morning, or buttonholed you in the pub last night. With po-faced relish, they dredge up and reciprocate his notorious miscalculation before the 2006 World Cup, when he joked that he would support "anyone but England". As he takes his saltire into another semi-final, they will be rooting for "anyone but Murray".

But their numbers, surely, must be diminishing – and not merely in deference to any appeasement they might perceive in Andy Murray himself, since the days of his gawky emergence. For if Middle England has a defining role in Wimbledon, then the reverse is also true. Wimbledon is one of those shared national rituals that inflects society's sense of itself.

The conservative DNA of the All England Lawn Tennis Club is shared by many who endure the proletarian indignity of overnight queues, for scraps off the table of privilege. Their complicity, however, is not enough to prevent sedition in their own idols. It is true that elite tennis players, no less than millionaire champions of any other sport, can be immured from the winds of social change. But sport is not just a reflection of society: it refracts its development.

And tennis, remember, is all about the embattled individual. The greens and whites that define this tournament invoke some tranquil, bucolic ancestry. But generation by generation, it dependably introduces the shires to the latest model of feisty, self-reliant youth. It is not as if Murray has challenged prejudices the way John McEnroe did, when he brought his insolent genius here. Yet when nostalgics look back upon McEnroe, Connors and Borg – all chaps, by the way, in severe need of a haircut – they do so with a wistful sigh. If they still don't like the cut of Murray's jib, then they must know, deep down, that it is they who will eventually have to change.

As soon as he appeared on the scene, an irresistible contrast suggested itself between Murray and Tim Henman. Here was one of these sullen, queue-spraying snowboarders, careering past an elegant skier. It held true of their tennis, Murray supplanting the delicacy of Henman's serves and volleys with the full, violent arsenal of modern power play. More importantly, however, it feasibly extended to their general aspect and demeanour. That allowed everyone to cut a few corners in allocating a role to each – and to do them both a disservice.

The root of the word "caricature" is the Latin one for "load". And that was no less pertinent to Henman, when depicted as some kind of tennis Gatsby, than it is to Murray as some cheerless, unkempt hoody. Henman was a fine player, the most accomplished Briton for a long time; and he is clearly a likeable fellow, free of airs. There were times during his career when he might permit himself a curse on court, or sneak a fag off it. He never pretended to be anything he wasn't. All the messianic nonsense was pumped up by the media – and lapped up by the public. It was cruel, really. In the end, it meant even his greatest achievements may be represented as shortcomings.

Murray, conversely, has found himself praised with faint damns. Initially, he was maligned as grumpy, practically autistic. Fans compared the demonstrative sufferings of his mother with the restraint and dignity of the Henman family. As for that persistently adolescent beard... On what conceivable grounds does he look in the mirror, and refrain from shaving the bloody thing off? Some have even managed to discover something reprehensible in his admission of boredom with the inane, interminable Centre Court gag: "Come on, Tim!"

Now, does this witticism disclose a genuine hankering for their old darling? Does it mean: "Come back, Tim – all is forgiven?" How can it? For it is this same fatuous, vacuous voice that must itself beg the pardon of both Henman, and Murray. It is time British players were respected as human beings, not patriotic constructs that either admit or refuse sanitisation. To play in the era of Roger Federer has been doubly tough. It is hard enough trying to win tennis matches, without being expected to win hearts with grace and flair, as well. Murray's opponent today is himself perfectly capable of scowling. The only difference in Rafael Nadal – apart from a complexion made in Majorca, not Stirling – is 10 Grand Slams.

And while Murray has learnt to stifle his self-disgust, and the remonstrations with his team, perhaps a gradual rapprochement with the public is simply down to his tennis. Perhaps Middle England has begun to turn its censorious instincts upon itself. A few years ago, it might have found something mildly amusing in "Come on, Tim!" Now, it shifts unhappily in its seat. What a prick, they say to themselves. And they are not talking about Murray. With time, inevitably, they are starting to talk like him.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick