Now do you see? Can you see what those of us who have suffered and whooped and roared, and stayed up all night when he’s playing in Australia, screaming at him not to put it in the net while walloping items of furniture, until the neighbours ring the army as they think there’s a military coup taking place, could see?
For years we had to face the taunts of the majority, who complained he was “too dour” and they might support him if he “was a bit jokier”. This would be a fair comment, except he’s a tennis player. It would be like people leaving my shows, saying “What a dreadful evening. The jokes were all right but his backhand’s shit”.
We endured his torture in the early years, as he would play exquisitely against the best players ever, then hit one poor shot and physically crumble, and you could hear him muttering to himself: “Oh, I’ve remembered, I’m hopeless. And now my leg hurts, and so does my ear and I’ve got diarrhoea and malaria and it turns out I’m a woman trapped in a woman’s body.” But throughout these times he seduced some of us, with a compelling combination of extraordinary sporting ability and endearing humility.
No win came easy, and that made him all the more attractive. In his fifth Grand Slam final, against Djokovic in New York last year, I was with an equally Murray-obsessed friend, and as ever with his finals, neither of us had been able to take solids for three days. At two sets-all, such was the tension we had a serious conversation that began with me being asked: “Mark – if it meant Murray would win the next game on the Djokovic serve, would you have it off with Eric Pickles?”
I recall introducing a sense of perspective, and saying: “I think I’d want the whole set for that”.
The appeal is not because he’s British. Sport is about personalities, and part of his attraction is that he unwittingly rejects the celebrity status he’s earned so much more than most celebrities who embrace it.
Unlike the imperious Federer or majestic Nadal, you could see him battling internal demons, and for the rest of us that makes it so much easier to identify with him.
It also meant this year that no one with any sense was confident Murray would win the final, even when he was two sets up, as Djokovic is mentally exhausting to watch, let alone play. The ball can be smashed with fury with him not even in the frame, then he’ll appear in the corner, contorting himself in such a way he actually spins inside-out with his internal organs on show, returns it to the baseline and pings back to normal like a cartoon in time for the next shot.
But Murray withstood it all, because this is a Murray that retains all the sweetness of the vulnerable Murray, but has taken a decision to be tough. The difference is probably the influence of the stony Ivan Lendl (above), who appears to have erased all that gruelling self-doubt. At one point we saw Lendl’s stern frowning face respond to a magnificent break of serve by gently nodding, which is the equivalent of anyone else dropping their pants and mooning the umpire with an arse covered in glitter.
At the end it was apt that Murray made us wait. To win with one of his first four match points would have been to betray the last eight years. It was a little glimpse of the suffering he’d put us through before, like a band playing an old hit.
On top of that, at match point you couldn’t be sure the referee wouldn’t declare the roof had to be shut, which would take so long they’d call it a draw.
But when the moment came it was the triumph, not just of one tennis player, but of a certain type, of the humble, the resilient, the emotional, the sort that has to overcome an appalling tragedy in his youth, and yet battles through not only to win, but to win without any of the Apprentice-style arrogance that is supposed to be the mark of the modern winner.
Some people, I suppose, still won’t get it, but I’m not sure I get them. Cry, everyone, cry. The sweet guy has won, and that happens rarely enough, doesn’t it?Reuse content