Andy Mur­ray, the gift who just kept on giv­ing for Bri­tish ten­nis

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SPORTS - TEN­NIS

LON­DON: For a na­tion steeped in ten­nis his­tory but long starved of suc­cess, Britain’s Andy Mur­ray was the gift that kept giv­ing.

From the mo­ment the scrawny kid from the Scot­tish town of Dun­blane won the ju­nior ti­tle at the 2004 U.S. Open, he was touted as the real Mc­Coy.

He did not dis­ap­point and 14 years later, with his bat­tle-scarred right hip ap­par­ently prov­ing be­yond even Mur­ray’s never-say-die at­ti­tude, only the hard-hearted could wish him any­thing other than good­will as he pre­pares for life after ten­nis with his 32nd birth­day loom­ing.

What­ever hap­pens in the fi­nal act of his ca­reer he be­longs in the pan­theon of Bri­tish sport­ing greats.

De­spite a ca­reer forged in the tough­est of all ten­nis eras, Mur­ray has 45 ca­reer ti­tles – in­clud­ing three Grand Slams, two Olympic golds, a Davis Cup – and $60 mil­lion in ca­reer earn­ings.

Yet it was per­haps a de­feat that opened the door to great­ness, and a na­tion’s af­fec­tion.

The 2012 Wim­ble­don fi­nal, Mur­ray’s first at the All Eng­land Club where he shoul­dered home hopes for more than a decade, saw him eclipsed by Roger Fed­erer and then re­ceive a stand­ing ova­tion as the tears flowed dur­ing his run­ner-up speech.

Britain loves a plucky loser but Mur­ray was to prove any­thing but.

He re­turned to the Wim­ble­don lawns weeks later and rode a wave of na­tional eu­pho­ria to beat Fed­erer to Olympic gold.

A few weeks after that he out­lasted Ser­bia’s No­vak Djokovic to win the U.S. Open hav­ing lost his first four Grand Slam fi­nals – a record he shared with coach Ivan Lendl.

Sig­nif­i­cant as that Flush­ing Mead­ows vic­tory was – it ban­ished the ghost of Fred Perry by end­ing a 76-year wait for a Bri­tish Grand Slam cham­pion – what fol­lowed a year later took Mur­ray’s stand­ing to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level.

With Rafael Nadal and Fed­erer both suf­fer­ing shock de­feats it seemed the ten­nis gods were smil­ing as the draw opened up.

Yet, as he often seemed to de­light in do­ing at Wim­ble­don, Mur­ray put his fans through the wringer.

He fought back from two sets down in the quar­ter­fi­nal to beat Spain’s Fer­nando Ver­dasco and again found him­self in trou­ble against Poland’s Jerzy Janow­icz be­fore win­ning in four.

Top seed Djokovic awaited in the fi­nal but Mur­ray was sim­ply too good, win­ning in straight sets to end a 77-year jinx for Bri­tish men on the hal­lowed lawns. While the score­line was rou­tine, the fi­nal heart-pound­ing game will for­ever live in Bri­tish sport­ing folk­lore.

With 15,000 peo­ple on a bak­ing Cen­tre Court bel­low­ing his name and 17 mil­lion Brits glued to TV screens around the coun­try Mur­ray went 400 ahead as he served for the ti­tle.

Djokovic clawed it back to deuce but Mur­ray, some­how hold­ing him­self to­gether in suf­fo­cat­ing ten­sion, earned a fourth match point and when his op­po­nent net­ted a back­hand it felt a weight was lifted off the whole coun­try.

“It’s the hard­est few points I’ve had to play in my life,” Mur­ray said after the game.

“That last game will be the tough­est game I’ll play in my ca­reer, ever,” he added.

Mur­ray’s ob­du­rate play­ing style, re­ly­ing on su­per­hu­man de­fen­sive skills mixed with flashes of ge­nius shot-mak­ing, and all fu­elled by a fe­ro­cious will to win, be­gan to take its toll.

He re­quired back surgery at the end of 2013 and in 2014 he did not reach a Grand Slam fi­nal for the first time since 2009. The best was yet to come though. In 2016 Mur­ray reached his fifth Aus­tralian Open fi­nal and first French Open fi­nal – los­ing to ca­reer ri­val Djokovic in both.

He re­bounded, how­ever, to beat Canada’s Mi­los Raonic to win his sec­ond Wim­ble­don ti­tle.

Mur­ray then out­lasted Juan Martin del Potro on a steamy Rio evening to be­come the first player to win two Olympic sin­gles golds. But his hunger was still not sat­is­fied.

Djokovic had looked im­mov­able at the top of men’s ten­nis ear­lier that year, but Mur­ray hunted him down.

Con­sec­u­tive ti­tles in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Vi­enna and Paris then at the ATP Fi­nals in Lon­don, where the Scot beat Djokovic in the fi­nal, meant that Mur­ray ended the year as the ATP’s world No.1 for the first time – seven years after first be­ing ranked two.

A knight­hood fol­lowed and a third BBC Sports Per­son­al­ity of the Year award but only he knows if that manic charge to the sum­mit ex­ac­er­bated the hip in­jury that will end his ca­reer.

It was not all about in­di­vid­ual glory though.

Mur­ray proved the ul­ti­mate team player. In 2015 he al­most sin­gle­hand­edly de­liv­ered Britain’s first Davis Cup tri­umph since 1936.

Never one for con­ven­tion, Mur­ray ended an un­for­get­table week­end in Ghent with an au­da­cious top­spin lob to seal vic­tory against Bel­gium’s David Gof­fin. –

Mur­ray wipes tears from his face dur­ing a news con­fer­ence where he said he could bow out after the Aus­tralian Open.

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