Mur­ray still has his mind

He could not over­come in­jury, but Scot’s men­tal strength and per­son­al­ity can be force for good

Sport360 - - News - Ten­nis with Chris Bai­ley b @chris­je­bai­ley ✉ chris­bai­[email protected]

In the end, the mind went where the body could not fol­low. Af­ter in­nu­mer­able con­sul­ta­tions, half a dozen with­drawals, one fu­tile sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure, months of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and un­told agony, a hip socket – one measly joint – has stolen years away from Andy Mur­ray.

For 18 months it has seemed a slow march to­wards the in­evitable, but only Mur­ray and his team know just how long he has had to cope with that grem­lin next to his groin, hav­ing been de­scribed as ‘long­stand­ing’ when the prob­lem was first re­ported in June 2017.

The 31-year-old was – and for the mo­ment, still is – a player who would fight for ev­ery cause, how­ever hope­less. That is why, for how­ever gloomy the fore­cast got, it was hard to doubt that this steely Scot would find an an­swer.

The pain fi­nally put a full stop on the one an­swer he was try­ing to avoid. So on Fri­day, in a press con­fer­ence at Mel­bourne Park, he was forced to ad­dress it not only to the world’s me­dia, but him­self. And it was hard to watch. Re­ally hard.

The im­pend­ing re­tire­ment of a sports star is no tragedy, but it reaches for the heart­strings in a pe­cu­liar way. He has been a part of many lives since go­ing up two sets against David Nal­ban­dian at Wim­ble­don in 2005, be­fore his gan­gly 18-year-old frame conked out. Even then, the mind was go­ing where the body could not fol­low.

That is why the very best ath­letes de­serve our adu­la­tion, our glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. Not be­cause they are su­pe­rior, but be­cause they are liv­ing em­bod­i­ments of hu­man po­ten­tial. With that sin­gu­lar mind­set comes thou­sands of hours ded­i­cated, thou­sands of hours sac­ri­ficed. They re­mind us of what we could be ca­pa­ble of, if we tried that lit­tle bit harder in our par­tic­u­lar walk of life.

What a life Mur­ray has led. Lay­ing the ghost of Fred Perry to rest af­ter 76 years and be­com­ing the first Bri­tish man to win a Grand Slam since 1936 at the US Open in 2012.

Then at Wim­ble­don a year later, the tour­na­ment for so long syn­ony­mous with straw­ber­ries, cream and plucky Brits com­ing up short.

Two Olympic golds, one in Lon­don. A Davis Cup – an­other Bri­tish mill­stone from 1936 – all the more re­mark­able for his vic­tory in all eight sin­gles rub­bers over the course of the sea­son. A fur­ther Wim­ble­don suc­cess, a to­tal of nine Grand Slam fi­nals, the as­cen­sion to world No1 in 2016.

He is truly one of the finest ten­nis play­ers to have ever lived, in an era where it just so hap­pened that three slightly finer ones, No­vak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Fed­erer, were also around.

It was a prac­tice match against Djokovic in which he felt a dif­fer­ent throb of pain, one from the heart.

The Serb has won more than his fair share of matches against Mur­ray but never with­out hav­ing to pull off the spec­tac­u­lar.

Af­ter his peer had dragged him around the Mar­garet Court Arena for the best part of two sets, a ‘help­less’ Mur­ray could only look back on those fa­mous du­els in past tense. So, what next? The mind may now be wounded too, but the boy from Dun­blane who at one time con­quered a sport, has al­ready proven he has so much to of­fer be­yond col­lect­ing trin­kets and tro­phies. Mur­ray has been a con­sis­tent cham­pion of fem­i­nism within the sport, in­clud­ing equal pay for women and the ap­point­ment of a fe­male coach in Amelie Mau­resmo. It was Bil­lie Jean King, the most tire­less ad­vo­cate of equal­ity within the game fol­low­ing a sim­i­larly sto­ried ca­reer, who has pre­dicted that his ‘great­est im­pact on the world may be yet to come’.

He was made a knight of the Bri­tish realm not only for his ser­vices to ten­nis but to char­ity, rais­ing aware­ness for many is­sues such as the pre­ven­tion of malaria and can­cer aware­ness. Fol­low­ers, on so­cial me­dia es­pe­cially, will know the per­cep­tion he is a po-faced, hu­mour­less Scots­man, who once dared to make a joke about the Eng­land na­tional foot­ball team, has long since been proved false.

His skill set could lend to a gov­ern­ing role. There are is­sues that need an ex­pe­ri­enced voice such as cal­en­dar con­ges­tion, con­tro­ver­sial rule changes, pro­posed re­vamp­ing of sev­eral tour­na­ments and wide­spread al­le­ga­tions of match-fix­ing.

Closer to home, the Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion is strug­gling with par­tic­i­pa­tion num­bers and has a his­tory of fail­ing to de­velop the tal­ents of its own ju­niors.

Don’t for­get, Mur­ray had to go abroad to achieve his po­ten­tial.

In­deed, where his mind goes, a sports body will surely fol­low.

The boy from Dun­blane, who at one time con­quered a sport, has al­ready proven he has so much to of­fer be­yond col­lect­ing trin­kets and tro­phies

Worst fears: Andy Mur­ray has ad­mit­ted the end of his play­ing ca­reer is nigh due to a nag­ging hip in­jury.

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