Where would British tennis be if not for one unassuming Scot. Andy Murray, over the course of his decade-spanning career, has double-handedly re-written the nations sporting history books. His fiery backhand, lung-busting endurance, and timely dulcet wisdom have mocked the pessimism of every sports fan who had given up on a sport that had failed to deliver much cheer this side of the Second World War.

Delivering the first British male Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936, and the first British Wimbledon title since Virginia Wade in 1977, there was a time when, amongst his superhuman side-to-side rallies of Wimbledon’s centre court, Murray appeared just as close to immortal as one man could get. An Olympic champion, a US Open champion, and now the conqueror of the hallowed lawns of the All England Club — the Scot was unbreakable and untouchable.

Murray celebrates a centre court victory at Wimbledon – a common site. (Andy Hooper, Daily Mail)

This week, however, the picture looked somewhat different. A broken and beleaguered Andy faced the press for what could be one of the final times as his ailing body faces its definitive match point. Faced with the sobering scenes of reporters attempting to prod the tearful remains of one of Britain’s greatest sporting heroes, we saw the Scot painfully and devastatingly accepting to himself, and to the world, that father time had sapped what had once exhilarated those of this nation and beyond.

Murray’s injury-ridden demise feels, more than anything else, like growing up. Much as when our younger selves might have idolised our parents to the point of them becoming deities (only for us to grow up ourselves and realise that they too are but mere humans susceptible to the same thoughts, fears, and ailments as anyone else) the Scot’s raw and untimely ending only serves as a further reminder that our visions of transcendent humanity must always be slapped in the face by the realities of life.

The show-stopping summer of 2013 or Great Britain’s captivating Davis Cup victory seems like a lifetime ago when staring at the very poster-man coming to terms with the fact that he must let go of the thing that has carried him this far — through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows.

Murray wins Wimbledon in 2013 – the first male British title for 77 years.

Tennis was the distraction from the “dark, tragic times” that surrounded his hometown after the Dunblane Massacre in 1996 — stating in 2014, “you have no idea how tough something like that is, and then as you start to get older, you realise … It wasn’t until a few years ago I started to research it and look into it a lot, because I didn’t really want to know”. Tennis was also the means through which he met his wife, Kim Sears, as an 18-year-old at the US Summer Open. Crucially, tennis was and still is family to Murray. His mum Judy is an elite level coach, while Jamie, his brother, is a mixed doubles champion. When applying this context, it makes the broken Murray of the press conference even more heart-breaking. This is not so much a man saying goodbye to a sport, as it is a man saying goodbye to his conception of life as he has known it ever since he could reach the net cord.

The plain strawberry eating feminist.

It has not always been the storybook romance for Murray and the British public. Famously Scottish when he lost, and British when he won — the English crowds did not always warm to his unapologetic patriotism. Murray, however, was never interested in playing to the crowd, both on the court and off it. He’s never been one to embrace the full regality of the All-England Club, hilariously reminding us that he eats strawberries with his fingers as opposed to the common accompaniment of cream; more seriously, he was a proud supporter of Scottish independence in 2014; he has never been afraid to show his emotions in spite of the toxic expectations of masculinity; and he’s been a powerful and outspoken feminist on countless occasions.

When hiring Amelie Mauresmo, many of those in the sport questioned his decision to hire the female ex-tennis player as his coach. Murray, on the other hand, staunchly defended his decision in the face of the blatant sexism. “Have I become a feminist?” he repeated, “well, if being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then yes, I suppose I have”. Raised by the “strong women” in his life, the “muscle man from Dunblane” has always sought to fight for equality (and against toxic masculinity) in tennis as he trod the exhausting path towards becoming the unrivalled king of British tennis history, bringing with him a legacy that will reach far beyond a backhand, a five-setter, or even a Grand Slam title.  

Andy Murray and Amelie Mauresmo hitting the practice courts. (Jonathan Brady PA)

That is why, in and amongst the melancholic realisation of the ever-increasing likelihood that we will never again see the brilliance of Murray grace the grass of SW19, we must understand that he was more than just a tennis player, and will continue to be even when his body forces him to lay the racquet down for the final time.

So to Andy Murray: our British Scotsman, or Scottish Brit (I’m sure he’d prefer the latter); the tennis champion; the husband; the feminist; the naked strawberry eater; the proud crier; the dead-pan comedian; and the broken contemplator — thank you and good luck.

Categories: Sport