AFTER he had performed beyond expectation, despite losing in in the first round of the Australian Open, BBC Sport posed the question: ‘Did we all retire Andy Murray too soon?’ However, the Beeb’s website might equally have written: Come on, Andy, make up your mind!
Facing the media just three days earlier, a melancholic Murray had wept while announcing his impending retirement from professional tennis: at best, the plan was for a final bow at Wimbledon later this year; at worst, he feared quitting within days if suffering a painful embarrassment at the Australian Open.
But within 72 hours Andy Murray evidently had surprised himself by taking Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, seeded 22, to five sets. Despite the arena having just screened a valedictory montage, Murray told the Melbourne crowd: ‘Maybe I’ll see you again . . . I’ll need to have a big operation, which there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to come back from anyway, but I’ll give it my best shot.’
Not a complete volte-face; but enough vacillation to make one wonder why Murray had not kept schtum and stayed dry-eyed until after testing himself in the tournament.
When earlier dangling the likelihood of imminent retirement, mournful Murray had prompted premature obituaries of a sporting life which, it now appears, might remain breathing for a while yet. In 2012 Virginia Wade labelled Andy Murray a ‘drama queen’ and before his final curtain there could yet be a prolonged deathbed scene.
The earlier acts have of course earned Murray rave reviews, especially in Scotland. On January 12, the day after his maudlin media conference, scattered throughout the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail were 15 adulatory pages – repeat, 15 pages – including a front-page lead, for Scotland only, headlined ‘Game, set and matchless’.
The Scottish chief sports writer was promoted to the comment section for a two-page paean to ‘Britain’s greatest ever sportsman’ (a fair claim; dissenting comments below the line please). And Saturday columnist Emma Cowing devoted most of her page to hailing Murray for ‘his role as feminist, constantly reminding others that women are just as talented as men in the sport’.
Just as talented? Murray has been lauded by Billie Jean King, Serena Williams and other women for publicly supporting their championships having the same prize money and enjoying equal exposure on show courts; but surely even Murray, the ‘trailblazer for equality’, would not seriously contend that the standards of play by the leading male and female professionals are remotely comparable.
Cowing was also smitten by the lachrymose Murray having ‘let us see into his soul’: ‘There are few things more heartbreaking than watching a grown man break down in public. Particularly one who has been a hero to millions.’
A more controversial view of Andy Murray’s trademark tears came from former Scottish international footballer turned TalkSPORT presenter Alan Brazil. Alongside Brazil’s highly dubious claim that ‘I was more agile than he has ever been’, the radio host berated the serial blubberer: ‘I admire what he has done but I don’t want tears.’
Alan Brazil specialises in saloon-bar schtick; his pop at Murray was not the first time Brazil has been called a ‘caveman’, nor is it likely to be the last. Nonetheless, on this occasion Brazil’s bluster did contain an element of truth: even in this emotionally continent age, some of us still prefer heroes, sporting or otherwise, to possess a little more starch in their upper lip.
In the Scottish edition of the Mail, Emma Cowing also cooed of Murray: ‘If he is a Marmite character to some, it is perhaps because he embodies so many qualities of our small nation. Thrawn. Competitive. Chippy. A big heart underneath the hard-edged dourness.’
Those characteristics made our joyless Jock the antithesis of his predecessor as the standard bearer for British tennis, Tim Henman. Despite their differing personalities, it is reported that the pair are good friends and each has spoken up for the other. Although Henman was at least one level below, and his playing achievements were much more modest, Murray has always been genuinely respectful – unlike many of his countrymen.
Henman was for several years in and around the world’s top ten – at the time, almost unthinkable for a British player – in spite of which many Scots derided Tiger Tim as the epitome of Middle England, a Home Counties hero for the hollering Henrys and Henriettas on Henman Hill. When in his late teens Andy Murray first made waves at Wimbledon, Scottish cultural commentator Stuart Cosgrove contrasted the pair thus: ‘Murray is a breath of fresh air for British sport. Henman has been a bit of a lame, middle-of-the-road character but Murray has got real spirit about him.’
‘Lame, middle-of-the-road’, being one of the kinder comments from Scotland towards Tim Henman. It is best not to imagine what else would have been said of him had Henman’s mother been permanently by his side.
Ubiquitous Judy Murray clearly relishes the limelight and reflected glory. Piggy-backing upon her younger son’s stellar career, the Murray matriarch has herself become a C-List celebrity, her variety of gigs ranging from Strictly Come Dancing to a weekly (non-sport) column in The Sunday Post.
The comedy panel show Mock The Week once required the contestants to provide examples of Unlikely Things For Andy Murray To Think – with the man himself sitting in the audience.
The clip contains several amusing contributions, notably by Ed Byrne (his crack involving the Williams sisters is not for the easily offended). But Hal Cruttenden delivers the most nerve-hitting line: ‘I wonder if my mum is watching today. Of course she is. She’s always watching . . .’
Judy Murray’s omnipresence was again evident in Australia when, following Andy’s moist-eyed media conference, mother and son posted on Instagram:
According to Andy Murray, the 31-year-old married father of two: ‘Best way to feel better after a tough day is a big cuddle from your mum.’
Wife Kim, who was not in Australia, has yet to comment.