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Wimbledon 2013: Murray is not playing for us, he is playing for himself

Britain is desperate to take national credit for something that has nothing to do with the nation at all

So, another moment of Murray Mania approaches

Prime Ministers will stop work and self-consciously tweet; offices will judder to a halt. Those crazy gatherings on Henman Hill will wave and gurn, frothing with patriotism. (It is, incidentally, noticeable that Murray Mount has never stuck as a term for that Wimbledon outcrop, perhaps due to a lingering element of anti-Scottishness in the collective consciousness.  I am reliably informed that it will become Robson’s Green in a couple of years, when our Laura fulfils her promise of semi-final heartbreak).

But you do not have to be anti-Scottish to be bemused by it all.  You do not even have to be one of those people who criticise Murray for being dour (not that he is, by Scottish standards), or petulant, or ferret-faced.  Andy Murray seems like a likeable, successful, driven individual.  But why should I – or anybody else – care if he succeeds?

There is nothing tribal about tennis.  Andy Murray is not even speciously representing his country or region, like a football or rugby player, when he trots out onto the grass.  His course through Wimbledon is no more than an exercise in sweatily advancing his bank balance by some million pounds or so.  It is good for him if he wins, but not for anybody else.

Quite why we as a nation we should wish to impose on Murray a more mythical, or emotionally resonant, status is confusing. Tennis is a selfish, solitary sport.  A victory is measured by pounds earned by the winner. Andy Murray is not playing for us, he is playing for himself.

There is a term that has gained currency in the city called “Wimbledonisation”: the idea that Britain is good at hosting events, but not winning them.  So foreign businesses, for example, enter the country, but take profits out with them. 

Wimbledon’s success has – in theory – nothing to do with the nationality of its winners.  But we refuse to see that: each year, most of us yearn for the tournament to be rendered perfect by the success of a Brit.  What Wimbledonisation should mean, then, is the idea that Britain is desperate to take national credit for something that has nothing to do with the nation at all.

And it is not just tennis. When Justin Rose won the US Open last month, we were subjected to what amounted to a request to joyfully shudder with patriotic pride.  It doesn’t matter that Rose primarily plays his trade abroad. His individual victory is made to stand for something broader.

It cannot, and should not.  Like Rose, Andy Murray is – to misquote John Donne – an island, entire of his self; he is not a metonymy for our island, or a heroic representative of British spirit.  If he wins, he will be the richer for it.  We will not.