Magical Murray mints tennis’ hard currency

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2008

In the end, the symmetry was simply too perfect to deny. The symmetry with the oft-cited Fred Perry, Britain’s last Major champion, whose victory 76 years ago came on the same day, at the same tournament, in the same thrillingly extended circumstances of a five-setter. The symmetry with Ivan Lendl, Andy Murray’s coach, who also lost his first four appearances in Grand Slam finals but triumphed at the fifth attempt, again in five sets.

But the most important, the most irresistible symmetry of all, is that Murray’s enormous talent and prodigious diligence now find their reflection in achievement and acclaim on an equally gigantic scale.

In the avalanche of analysis that follows Murray’s epic US Open win, many factors will be implicated in the Scot’s breakthrough success after a sequence of frustrations. Lendl, a looming figure of taciturn conviction. The Olympics. The wind. The New York crowd. The absence of Rafael Nadal and the premature exit of Roger Federer. Luck, pluck and a few smoking forehands.

They all played their part, but to overstate their importance is to underestimate the skill, commitment and superhuman strength of character with which Murray hauled in an ambition weighty enough to burden a nation. This wasn’t his fate; it is his feat.

After all, what these isles really thirsted for, after three-quarters of a century, was not a Grand Slam championship to add to the national honour roll, but a Grand Slam champion. So let’s celebrate the man.

Murray is, most obviously, a phenomenal athlete. According to his trainer Jez Green, the Scot has the strength of a rugby player, the stamina of a middle-distance runner and the explosive speed of a sprinter (his 100m time is around 11 seconds). So awesome has Novak Djokovic’s conditioning been in recent times that Sports Illustrated published a persuasive piece arguing that the Serbian was the fittest athlete of all time, yet in Monday’s fifth set, he could not live with Murray’s superior strength.

To his innate elastic-limbed defensive excellence, Murray has added the necessary aggression. Against Djokovic, he sought to take control on the big points, stepping up from the baseline and taking the ball on the rise; nobody transitions more devastatingly from defence to attack. He has also become an outstanding tactician: the NYT’s Geoff Macdonald says Murray “plays the smartest game in tennis.” In holes against Cilic and Berdych, Murray’s brain whirred like a supercomputer, coolly recalibrating his game for the demands of the situation under the immense pressure of a heavy deficit.

Just as impressive is Murray’s determination. He has said his victory is “what I have been working towards for the last ten years of my life.” And how he has worked. When he felt his teenage coaching was inadequate, he moved to Barcelona, alone, at age 15. When he felt his conditioning was letting him down, he devised a fitness program that lasts six hours a day off season and includes chin-ups with 20 kilos strapped to his waist and sets of twenty 100m sprints in 20 minutes. When he suspected his performance suffered in hot weather, he started doing Bikram yoga in 43-degree saunas.

It was suggested that Murray’s tearful runner’s-up speech at this year’s Wimbledon boosted his popularity by making him more relatable. But the opposite was surely true: it showed how far removed Murray was from the average Joe in his willingness to invest with such single-minded totality in an ambition that had no guarantee of fulfilment.

Now that that ambition is fulfilled, and Murray has smiled for the cameras, perhaps he will finally be accorded national treasure status by a country that has not always found it easy to warm to him. It was our loss. Murray was never dour or gloomy, just measured and reflective. He was never bratty or unpatriotic, just the victim of shameful caricature and misquotation. And those fools who maintain the Scot has no sense of humour should watch the YouTube video of Murray at Roland Garros crooning a ridiculous karaoke rendition of ‘I Want You Back’ in a disco wig.

The truth is that Andy Murray has been for many years one of Britain and Scotland’s most admirable sporting exports – competing with the world’s best with skill and dedication on the court, conducting himself with understated dignity off it. There can be no disagreeing with Djokovic’s gracious assessment that no-one deserves this Major triumph more than Murray.

So that’s that then. The drought is over, the ghost is laid to rest, the monkey has been flung from the hunched back of British tennis. Tennis’s oldest storyline is at an end, but if Andy Murray’s manifold qualities endure, the next chapter could be really rather special.

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