Mur­ray en­sconced as Bri­tish sport­ing icon

The Bradenton Herald - - Sports - BY STEVE DOU­GLAS

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 ten­nis great and sports fans in his own coun­try.

Grumpy, sulky, petu­lant, cold. That was the ini­tial view to­ward Mur­ray, who will end his ca­reer – some­time this year, it seems – as one of Bri­tain’s great­est 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 his bat­tle with a long-stand­ing hip in­jury was mak­ing his day-to-day life a “strug­gle.” And it was tear­ful per­for­mance on Wim­ble­don’s Cen­tre Court years ago which fi­nally per­suaded 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 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, not just ten­nis fans who had long ap­pre­ci­ated his un­doubted tal­ent since turn­ing pro in 2005.

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 – fit­tingly 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 to the news about his likely re­tire­ment, 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 ten­nis­coach 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.

“I know all of us girls in the locker room are in awe & so grate­ful for how you al­ways fight in our cor­ner!” Heather Wat­son, Bri­tain’s No. 2 fe­male player, said Fri­day. “You in­spire me in so many ways and I don’t want you to go!!”

If his hip can hold up, there was a gen­eral de­sire to see Mur­ray make it to one last Wim­ble­don tour­na­ment be­fore bow­ing out.

Ex­pect the tears to flow then, too.

AP file photo

Bri­tain’s Andy Mur­ray kisses the men’s sin­gles tro­phy af­ter win­ning Wim­ble­don in 2013. Mur­ray is likely to re­tire this year.

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