Let’s hope it’s not the last we see of this sport­ing great

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis -

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?

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