Sports fans up and down the UK, and no doubt across the world, woke up on Friday morning to see the news that Andy Murray wished for this year to be his last in tennis. The former world number 1 sat lent over the press conference table in Melbourne Australia struggling to hold it in. He let out the news to the public that his pain was on the edge of being too much.
A once formidable and extraordinarily fit athlete was sat feeling weak, emotional and to the point of throwing in the towel. Personally, it was a staggering moment, to see a tennis icon being trumped by the very tool that made him so great…his body.
A sporting career for many in the majority of sports has its ending at a young age. There is so much training, weight lifting, sprint work, fitness and technical practice that you can do. Not to forget the huge mental and physical exhaustion, particularly in the field of tennis. Murray expressed how he wished to have one more Wimbledon before he put his racket to rest, but the three-time Grand Slam winning champion warned his fans how this Australian Open may very well be his last event.
With his unique personality, one can only admire Murray’s achievements. Before Murray’s accolades, tennis felt like a sport in the UK that was lost, with no great hero or champion. A ‘so close yet so far’, a scream and a shout at the TV as Tim Henman loses in a Wimbledon Semi-Final or a sigh of disappointment as Greg Rusedski misses out in the US Open Final. The nation thought that the day since Fred Perry’s Wimbledon win, a 76-year wait, was going to continue to feel like a lifetime ago, and the aspiration for young British tennis players to copy a previous British Grand Slam champion seemed almost mythical.
I remember being at a summer family friend’s party as the whole event came to a standstill as we gathered round the TV to glue ourselves to Murray’s first final at Wimbledon against the legend Roger Federer in 2012. The anguish as Murray was not able to give the British people what they so wanted, a Wimbledon champion, was draining as a looker on. However, to see the exhaustion and emotion as Murray was interviewed by Sue Barker at the end of the game was a winning moment in itself. The British public, although gutted to see Murray lose, saw a man who cared so much about being a champion, who cared so much about his work and who cared so much about wanting to do Britain proud. It was an iconic moment, one which furthered support for the Scotsman. The public could see how much this all meant for him and how much work he’d be willing to put in to make sure that he would be champion one day. The year 2012 would be the beginning of the Murray legacy.
A return to Wimbledon and the ace down the line against Federer brought the nation to its feet. Olympic Gold, an emphatic win in straight sets, a champion was born!
Roll on into September and Murray stands on the winner’s podium again after beating Novak Djokovic in a five-hour thriller in the US Open Final. Britain finally had a tennis champion, an aspiration for young tennis players to reach, tears of anguish were now replaced with tears of joy. Now Murray had Olympic Gold and a Grand Slam under his belt, was this the finale, was 2012 the year of British tennis?
I think for any tennis fan Wimbledon holds something very unique and extraordinary. For Britain, Wimbledon is ‘summer’, the combination of grass, strawberries, cream, summer dresses and Centre Court. Could 2013 be the dream that came true? A British champion finally crowned? With all the pressure, with all the hysteria, after the year before, Murray placed himself on Centre Court fighting it out to be crowned Wimbledon champion.
A straight sets victory over the much-favoured Djokovic brought hysteria to Britain. The 76-year wait was over and finally a Brit held the infamous Gentleman’s Singles title. Murray would go on later that year to be crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year as the nation was in pure Murray Mania. Could it get much better?
Probably one of Murray’s greatest achievements came only a couple of years later. A single-handed winning performance to help Britain win the Davis Cup, for the first time since 1936, and then a year later marching on to Wimbledon once again to beat Milos Roanic in straight sets and give Britain a second chance to celebrate the summer with a Wimbledon Champion. Personally, his achievements a few months later were probably the highlight of his career, showing resilience in some of the hashes conditions South America had to offer. Staying up until the early hours of the morning, I witnessed a heat exhausted Murray slog out over four hours of tennis to beat Juan Martin del Potro and gain a second Olympic Gold medal in Rio 2016. The Scot had pretty much completed the improbable and did it in his own unique fashion, through grit, relentless hard work and passion. Arise Sir Andy Murray the world’s number one tennis player!
An athlete sitting on top of the world, in his late twenties, a marriage to his childhood sweetheart Kim Sears and the birth of two children, you could say Murray was at his most complete. However, for Murray and tennis the successful and beautiful relationship was at the beginning of the end.
2017, albeit with a Queens Club victory, where Murray donated all his prize money to the victims’ families of the Grenfell Tower disaster, marked the first sign of the former world number one’s hip injury. Forcing him to withdraw from the US Open he would later go into 2018 undergoing hip surgery and pull out of the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. A return to the US Open at the end of the year saw him struggle his way, through the pain, to get into the second round. The fittest athlete in the world of tennis was now on the cusp of being utterly broken.
Stepping into the New Year Murray regarded himself to be ‘fit’ to play tennis. The question of course was simply how fit? As the press conference began in Melbourne you could see in his eyes the pain and sheer suffering the tennis icon had put himself through. Andy Murray’s time with tennis was at the final chapter.
For any British tennis fan, the fear is that tennis will never quite be the same again once Murray retires. Kyle Edmund looks to be making good headway and young Cameron Norrie seems to be making a mark on the world series, but questions have to be asked as to whether a Grand Slam British champion is on the horizon?
What makes Murray even more impressive is the generation he’s managed to achieve all his victories and honours. Tennis has probably seen its greatest ever players, the magician Roger Federer, the never-say-die Rafael Nadal and the work horse Novak Djokovic all have come together in this last decade or so. The level of tennis has been something to marvel at and Murray hasn’t just pottered along with it, he’s been right in the mix, deservedly putting his name amongst those three as the greats of this generation and tennis as a whole. His three Grand Slam titles, countless world series wins and two Olympic Gold medals, when looking at his opposition, mean even more.
2019 will mark the farewell to Murray Mania. Britain will be waiting for a new champion, the wish that it doesn’t take another 76 years. All tennis fans will hope that Murray can grit his way through to Wimbledon this year and play one last time on Centre Court; however, sport doesn’t always work out so romantically. Current and former players have poured out their support for Murray, illustrating what highly popular character he was/is within the male and female game.
Wimbledon’s Twitter profile probably said the best words over the last couple of days, “To Andy, whatever happens next, you’ve done more than you know”. Murray has given everything to tennis and the British public have been spoiled with such a legacy that the former number one will eventually leave behind. Tennis fan or not, one can only marvel, be grateful and wish Sir Andy Murray all the very best to his next chapter in life.