Veronica Lee: Murray doesn't deserve this sniping

There's thinly veiled prejudice in the criticisms of our top tennis player
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As he's in with a good shout of winning Wimbledon, this seems a good time to deal with the Andy Murray question: why do so many people persist in disliking him? Well, of course, Brits love a plucky loser ("Come on, Tim!") so someone actually winning a grand slam event might jar our collective joy in being a bit rubbish at everything, but mostly I sense there's thinly veiled prejudice at the heart of it.

Let me list some words used – both in the media and by fans – to describe Murray: moody, grumpy, dour, unsmiling, surly, arrogant. Why don't they just say "chippy bloody Scot" and be done with it? Most of the UK media and the tennis-going public live in the south-east of England, far enough away from Scotland to feel safe about crudely stereotyping its inhabitants.

And should Murray actually win Wimbledon this year, I guarantee there will be carping: "Oh but he only won because Rafael Nadal wasn't playing," the snipers will say. Nonsense: Murray beat Nadal in last year's US Open semi-finals and twice again more recently, and he has a 6/2 win/loss record against Roger Federer.

In addition, he has won 12 ATP titles, is ranked No 3 in the world and is considered by his peers to be capable of winning a slam. That's already an astonishing achievement in a country that struggles to develop tennis talent and whose last major winner was Virginia Wade in 1977. In the men's game, as we are constantly reminded, you have to go back to the third of Fred Perry's Wimbledon titles in 1936.

I've seen no evidence of it, but so what if he were arrogant – wouldn't you be if you were No 3 in the world at something? Murray is only 22, for goodness sake – I shudder to recall how full of ourselves my friends and I were at that age, and we couldn't win a game of tiddlywinks. And he may be a typical young dude in that he is a sports geek and loves boys' toys such as his PlayStation and Wii, but in press conferences I have found him to be polite, friendly and (not a given with sports stars) engaged with the wider world.

And I like that he's respectful to women (as evidenced in his relationships with his mother, Judy, and girlfriend, Kim Sears), values older people (he's close to his grandparents), recognises he has much to learn from more experienced players (he regularly calls Tim Henman for advice) and is popular with fellow pros (Federer and Nadal both speak warmly of him). And while others quibbled, he quickly agreed to a renegotiation of his RBS sponsorship package when the bank faced collapse.

No tennis writer worth reading could criticise Murray as a player – but other sections of the media are only now, five years into his senior career, coming round to acknowledging that he's a decent human being, too. I am sure that's because he has refused to supply an insatiable press pack with soapy stories about his parents' break-up when he was 11, his relationship with Sears and events at Dunblane in March 1996.

And then there's his sense of humour – dry, sardonic, slyly sarcastic – for which there should be a typeface called "ironic" to alert readers that they are supposed to laugh at an utterance rather than take po-faced offence at it. The line he wrote on his blog about supporting any team but England in the 2006 football World Cup really was a joke.

Maybe we should blame P G Wodehouse for a very funny line that has come to characterise some Sassanachs' view of the Scots: "It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine".

Well, it certainly isn't true of Andy Murray, and we should celebrate a truly talented sportsman and a really nice guy, however he fares at Wimbledon.