At one time Andy Murray was seen by many as a dour Scotsman, but now he’s a much-loved British sporting hero. Chris Bond charts his rise.
AS Andy Murray strode out on to court at London’s 02 Arena ahead of his showdown against his old foe Novak Djokovic at the weekend the noise levels almost took the roof off.
It was the kind of reception normally reserved for rock stars or royalty or, in some instances, sporting greats. But that’s what he has become.
Murray went into the match as the world number one having usurped his Serbian rival earlier in the month. It would have perhaps been typical, given the Herculean effort to get there, that he would finally reach the zenith of his sport only to be pushed off his perch.
But the Scotsman is a different player these days. Over the past 12 months he’s found his feet on clay, won his second Wimbledon title (in straight sets), regained his Olympic crown following an epic encounter against Juan Martin del Potro and, perhaps no less importantly, became a father.
Then on Sunday he capped a remarkable year by beating Novak Djokovic to win the ATP World Tour Finals and in doing so cement his place at the top of the rankings.
Murray’s rise to the top has been a long time coming. He was tipped for success from an early age. In 2001, when he was just 14, he was filmed playing tennis while his mum Judy, a constant presence at his matches over the years, remarked that “anything is possible” when it comes to Scotland producing a future tennis star.
But his road to the top has been anything but smooth. To begin with the sporting public didn’t really warm to him. We tend to like an underdog, which perhaps explains Tim Henman’s appeal. Certainly Henman was more instantly likeable and certainly came across better on TV – Murray appeared sullen and uncommunicative and, at times, downright prickly.
Then came his “anyone but England” remark when asked who he would be supporting in the 2006 World Cup, which provoked a furious, and unwarranted, backlash from England fans. It certainly didn’t endear him to people, including sections of the media.
Sporting careers are defined by key moments; think Sir Ian Botham at Headingley in 1981 or Sir Bobby Charlton and co 50 years ago. With Murray, though, it wasn’t a victory but a painful loss that proved a pivotal moment. It was in 2012 following his defeat in the Men’s final at Wimbledon by Roger Federer.
The Swiss superstar was sublime that day; even Nadal and Djokovic would have struggled to live with him, but afterwards Murray struggled to choke back the tears and perhaps for the first time viewers saw another side to him.
A few months later he beat Federer on the same court and since then he’s become the player he was always destined to be. His talent has never been in doubt, but until this year he’d never quite matched Djokovic, Federer and Nadal in the really big matches.
Indeed it’s perhaps been his misfortune to be playing at the same time as three of the game’s greatest ever players.
But following his latest victory over Djokovic, the question now is how great can Murray be? With Nadal and Federer both now past their best, one due to the ravages of injury and the other the inexorable march of time, there are fewer obstacles. There are some good young players emerging but none that look like shaking the Murray-Djokovic axis just yet.
There’s a feeling, too, that having finally won the elusive French Open, Djokovic may have taken his foot off the pedal.
As well as staying number one, Murray’s two big goals for 2017 will be winning the Australian and French Opens. Were he to win both, he would become only the ninth man ever to complete the career Grand Slam.
Now if he did that he could even lay claim to being Britain’s greatest sportsman.