Re­tir­ing Mur­ray al­ready a Bri­tish sport­ing icon

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Steve Dou­glas

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — The out­pour­ing of sad­ness and re­spect in Bri­tain over the news of Andy Mur­ray’s im­mi­nent re­tire­ment makes it easy to for­get the emo­tional bar­rier that ex­isted for so long be­tween the Scot­tish ten­nis player and sports fans in his own coun­try.

Mur­ray an­nounced at his Aus­tralian Open news con­fer­ence Fri­day he would try and keep play­ing through this year’s Wim­ble­don, if his painful hip al­lows him. Un­ranked in Mel­bourne, he opens against 22nd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut on Mon­day.

Grumpy, sulky, petu­lant, cold. That was the ini­tial view to­ward Mur­ray, who will end his ca­reer — some­time this year, it seems, per­haps af­ter Wim­ble­don — as one of Bri­tain’s great­est ever sports­peo­ple as well as a cham­pion of equal­ity, a role model and a shin­ing ex­am­ple of how to max­i­mize tal­ent.

It was a tear­ful Mur­ray who said Fri­day that his bat­tle with a long­stand­ing hip in­jury was mak­ing his day-to-day life a “strug­gle.” And it was a tear­ful per­for­mance on Wim­ble­don’s Cen­tre Court years ago that fi­nally led the Bri­tish pub­lic to take Mur­ray to their hearts.

In July 2012 — be­fore he won any of his three Grand Slam ti­tles, his two Olympic medals, or led Bri­tain to its first Davis Cup in 79 years — an emo­tional Mur­ray broke down in an on­court in­ter­view fol­low­ing his four-set loss to Roger Fed­erer in the Wim­ble­don fi­nal.

“I felt like I was play­ing for the na­tion,” Mur­ray said, his bot­tom lip quiv­er­ing, “and I couldn’t quite do it.”

In­ad­ver­tently, it might have boosted

Aus­tralian Open When:

De­fend­ing men’s cham­pion:

Mon­day through Jan. 27

Roger Fed­erer

Top men’s seed: De­fend­ing women’s cham­pion:

No­vak Djokovic

Caro­line Woz­ni­acki

Top women’s seed: TV:

Si­mona Halep On the ESPN net­works be­gin­ning at mid­night Sun­day night PDT on ESPN2. Check daily list­ings. his pub­lic stand­ing more than win­ning the ti­tle.

In an in­stant, Mur­ray was hu­man­ized. His emo­tions laid bare, it felt like he was fi­nally ac­cepted by the whole coun­try.

Mur­ray’s pop­u­lar­ity soared and per­haps it was no co­in­ci­dence that, from that turn­ing point, he be­came some­thing of a sport­ing phe­nom­e­non in Bri­tain. He won Olympic gold a month later — on the same Wim­ble­don lawns — and his first Grand Slam ti­tle at the U.S. Open soon af­ter.

The fol­low­ing year, he be­came the first Bri­tish man to win the Wim­ble­don ti­tle since Fred Perry in 1936. In 2015, he in­spired Bri­tain to the Davis Cup ti­tle. By the time he had won Wim­ble­don and the Olympic sin­gles ti­tle again in 2016, he was firmly in the con­ver­sa­tion about Bri­tain’s great­est sports star and the pub­lic was en­am­ored.

He was hon­ored with a knight­hood by Queen El­iz­a­beth II in 2017, the same year he rose to No. 1 in the rank­ings for the first time.

It was no sur­prise, there­fore, that Mur­ray led the news bulletins Fri­day morn­ing as Brits woke up, while so­cial me­dia was awash with praise and dis­cus­sion about his im­pact on ten­nis and sports in gen­eral.

“What­ever hap­pens next, you’ve done more than you know,” read a tweet from Wim­ble­don’s of­fi­cial ac­count, above a pic­ture of Mur­ray clutch­ing his face the mo­ment he won the sin­gles ti­tle at the All Eng­land Club for the first time.

While Mur­ray was widely hailed as the epit­ome of hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion, his work in cham­pi­oning equal­ity in ten­nis was also high­lighted.

“Your great­est im­pact on the world may be yet to come,” ten­nis great Billie Jean King wrote on Twit­ter. “Your voice for equal­ity will in­spire fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Mur­ray, who was helped on his jour­ney by ten­nis-coach mother Judy, was the first lead­ing male player to em­ploy a fe­male coach in Amelie Mau­resmo and of­ten spoke of want­ing equal pay in ten­nis. In a news con­fer­ence af­ter a loss to Sam Quer­rey in the Wim­ble­don quar­ter­fi­nals in 2017, Mur­ray in­ter­vened to cor­rect a jour­nal­ist who said dur­ing his ques­tion that Quer­rey was the “first U.S. player to reach a ma­jor semi­fi­nal since 2009.”

“Male player,” Mur­ray said, in a nod to mul­ti­ple Grand Slam cham­pion Ser­ena Wil­liams.

“That’s my boy,” his mother quickly tweeted. That short in­ter­jec­tion ce­mented Mur­ray’s sta­tus as a role model for equal­ity.

Steve Dou­glas is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

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