The things in sport that I never imagined I would see just keep happening. I was lucky enough to attend an Olympics in my home country earlier this summer and now a British tennis player has won a Grand Slam. When Roger Federer joked before his 2010 Australian Open final with Andy Murray that Britain had been waiting for a Grand Slam champion “for like 500 hundred years or something”, it hurt many British tennis fans. Because it’s not funny when it’s true. Most of us knew that Murray was the best tennis player the nation had produced in the 75 years since Fred Perry dominated the game but he was unfortunate to be around in the greatest of eras, destined to always be the usher and never the groom. 18 months ago, he seemed to be cast adrift behind the impregnable top 3 but ahead of the best of the rest. Something had to change.
And something did change. Murray’s shift in career aim almost certainly directly resulted in this crowning glory in New York. Late last year, the Scot stated that he was no longer in tennis to win Grand Slams but his primary aim was now to keep up with the game’s top triumvirate of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal – the axis of awesomeness we could call them. On first viewing, this new goal seemed ludicrous and defeatist. But on closer inspection, this showed that Murray was finally made of the tough stuff. This was him acknowledging that if he was to go down as one of the game’s better players, he needed to step up to the plate and take these guys on in the major tournaments. Not for him winning a slam due to poor form or injury of the Top 3. His form since teaming with Lendl has been nothing short of sensational. If 2011 was Novak Djokovic’s superhuman year, then 2012 has to go down as Murray’s year. He easily reached the semi-finals of his least favourite Slam in Paris, before going on to become the player of the summer. A maiden Wimbledon final appearance was followed up with a ruthless execution of Roger Federer in the Olympics Gold Medal match. And now he has rubber-stamped his superiority by outlasting marathon man Novak Djokovic in a 5-set match of the highest quality.
Yes, Murray has catapulted himself into what is now the Top 4. He has taken over from Rafael Nadal as World Number 3, and you could make a case for him being the world’s best player right now. But in order to strengthen that argument, he must go on from here and win multiple slams. He will arrive in Melbourne in January full of confidence at a Slam where he has already reached the final on two separate occasions. Right now, he stands as the man to beat in Australia. None of the other three names at the top of tennis beat a Grand Slam champion to win their first major; Djokovic defeated Tsonga, Nadal beat Mariano Puerta and Federer breezed past Mark Philippoussis. Murray had to dig deep and beat somebody who has been there, done it and got numerous Grand-Slam-winning t-shirts. And he did it. It is not just the fact that Murray has won one now that will make it easier for him to go on and win more. The real reason that Murray will doubtless win several more Slams is that he is now good enough. He was already too good to not win a Grand Slam in his career. But since hooking up with Lendl, the rejuvenated Murray is now good enough to sit at the top table and pick up his fair share of titles alongside them. He won’t win them all, that’s for sure. But he will add to this championship. I am absolutely certain of that.
On a personal note, I loved staying up until 3am in the morning (I live in Belgium so am CET) to witness British sporting history being made. It capped off a quite wonderful summer of British sporting success, which was started by Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France before the Olympics and Paralympics showcased everything that is good about our country. Job interviews the following day are ten-a-penny, British Grand Slam champions have proven to be slightly less regular. It took me a long time to be won over by Andy Murray – his sulky on-court attitude enamoured him to me as little as his dour off-court persona. But his perseverance to get to the top of his sport, allied with his outpouring of emotions in recent years, both in moments of success and failure, not to mention his at times breath-taking play, have made it increasingly difficult to fail to not only respect him but to begin to root for him and to actually like him. I started watching tennis 15 years ago when Tim Henman’s plucky Wimbledon runs were starting to capture the imagination of the British public. I would have loved it to have been Tim that broke the long winless streak for British men’s tennis, but alas it wasn’t to be. Tim had all the guts and fighting spirit in the world but ultimately his game fell short. For Andy Murray, the fight to be loved by the British tennis media and public as a whole was a long and arduous one. For some (I may or may not be guilty of this), this was because he simply wasn’t Tim Henman. He wasn’t as likeable as Tim was and he wasn’t the plucky underdog we all love in Britain. Now Andy Murray stands out on his own as the only British men’s tennis champion in the last three quarters of a century. He stands as one of the Top 4 players in the world in the greatest era that tennis has ever seen. But more importantly, he’s probably come out of the shadow of Tiger Tim!