The Observer view on Andy Murray’s retirement
Judy Murray, Andy’s mum, was a guest on the most recent series of A League of Their Own, the sports panel show. She didn’t say much (guests on the show never really do) and her main role was to giggle at jokes about her son. “No offence,” said comedian Rob Beckett. “Andy’s an incredible tennis player, but he’s not exactly Professor Bubbles when it comes to banter, is he?” The audience laughed, although host James Corden admitted he wasn’t clear exactly who Professor Bubbles was.
It’s strange how many of these misconceptions cling resiliently to Andy Murray, the 31-year-old tennis star who has announced that he will retire this year. That he has no sense of humour. That he prefers the US Open to Wimbledon. That he is somehow anti-English. Some people would choose never to forgive him for these failings, but for the vast majority of us he has became a national treasure, perhaps the greatest British sportsperson of modern times and a pioneer to boot.
It’s true that when he arrived on the scene in 2005, as an 18-year-old wild card at Wimbledon, he was hard to get a read on. Murray didn’t look much like an athlete: too skinny, even scrawny. And he certainly didn’t act like other British tennis players we knew; reaching the third round, he seemed to have a grit and a talent we hadn’t seen before. In interviews, he could be blunt and combative. The Wimbledon faithful would respond by churlishly refusing to rename Henman Hill.
But Murray won most of them over eventually. The simplest explanation for this is that he brought us success, a phenomenon you’d have had to be at least in your mid-80s to remember. He won Wimbledon thrillingly in 2013 and
then with disconcerting ease in 2016; he also claimed the US Open, two Olympic golds and basically singlehandedly won the Davis Cup (though, a proud team player, he would hate that analysis).
That, however, was only part of the reason we grew to love him. He softened a little and we learned to appreciate his honesty and wry humour. If you still don’t think he’s funny, watch Andy Murray: The Movie, a short he made with Richard Ayoade for Stand up to Cancer. Or the grinchy picture in a festive jumper he posted in Christmas 2014.
Murray has evolved into that rare thing: a thoughtful, opinionated sportsperson who is prepared to speak his mind while still an active athlete. He is a staunch advocate for women’s rights, whether it is supporting equal prize money or his appointment of the French ex-player Amélie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014. As guest editor of Huffington Post UK, he commissioned a video of men talking about the last time they cried and encouraged them to open up about depression. The criticism he received in some quarters after his tearful announcement on Friday, notably from TalkSport presenter Alan Brazil, suggests that some men are still not comfortable with such openness.
If Murray were, say, a Hollywood actor, he would be constantly pestered in interviews: “Are you going to run for political office one day?” He isn’t, but maybe we should ask the question. So Andy, how about it?
Andy Murray celebrates winning his first Wimbledon title in 2013. Photograph: Back Page Images/REX/Shutterstock