When Thomas Hamilton entered Dunblane Primary school in 1996, loaded his four guns and opened fire upon a gymnasium of children, little did he envisage that laying in his mercy would be the most successful British tennis player of all time. Fast forward 20 years, and Andrew Murray is at the peak of modern tennis, having become a global phenomenon on the court.
Yet, despite winning 2 Grand Slam titles, becoming an Olympic Gold medallist, a Davis Cup winner and achieving 35 career titles, Murray has faced much criticism over the years through his innate refusal to become the stereotypical ‘people’s champion’. However, surely the time has come to recognise Murray as the star he truly is.
In the modern tennis game it is easy to forget just how good the competition surrounding Murray really is. World no.1 Novak Djokovic often looks unbeatable. He combines athleticism, intelligence and outright shot-making brilliance in a way that is rivalled by few others. He alone has contributed to three of the Scot’s grand slam final losses, albeit falling short against Murray in two others. It is worth noting that both of Murray’s slam wins have come against the Serb. The duo both play a vaguely similar game and have been rivals since childhood, separated in age by only seven days.
But, when Murray does not have the formidable form of Djokovic in the way, he is often faced by the silhouette of Swiss man Roger Federer. A name renowned across the globe, Federer continues to defy his age and make deep inroads into major tournaments. Admittedly, he has not won a slam since Wimbledon of 2012, but his groundstrokes are as aggressive as they have ever been, his backhand is still one of the most beautiful shots in the game and his mind is razor sharp. You do not win 17 grand slams and turn into a bad player. Federer is still a genuine threat, especially during the shorter best of three set format used at events throughout the year between the four major tournaments. Federer has beaten Murray in three grand slam finals, and their most memorable recent meeting was at last year’s Wimbledon where he dismantled the home favourite in straight sets.
The standard of Murray’s opponents are the highest the game has ever seen
Furthermore, over recent years we have seen the dominance of Rafael Nadal. Also, a member of the so-called ‘Big 4’ (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray), a recent drop in form and extensive injury problems make it easy to forget quite how good the Spaniard was. Although he has never met Murray in a grand slam final, Nadal has provided Murray with a slam exit seven times in their history, with Murray only triumphing twice.
The possessor of a quite lethal forehand, Nadal was an unbelievable athlete at his best. Equally adept off of both sides, he even had a brilliant, although lesser used, volleying game. The trend continues. Throughout Murray’s career he has also had to compete against the likes of Stan Wawrinka, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Marin Cilic, Robin Soderling, Juan Martin Del Potro and so many other great players. He often gets stick for not being good enough, or choking, but the standard of opponents he has had to face has perhaps been the toughest the game has ever seen.
Another common gripe is of Murray’s ‘boring’ style of tennis. He does not have the dead-eye ability to hit winners like Djokovic, or the flashy shots like Federer, but Murray is the master of getting the ball back. In some regards, he is the typical plucky Brit, forever winning points from positions he shouldn’t, or winning matches where he was seemingly the worse player.
Murray is the master of getting the ball back
From the view of a television, one cannot see the variety of shots he plays, but they are always differing in spin, power and placement. Coupled with one of the best backhands on the tour, a serve that can reach over 130mph, and incredible athleticism, Murray is a very tough opponent. One of my favourite shots to watch, and in fact one of his specialities now, is the running groundstroke. So many times an opponent has looked to close out the point at the net, only to see a sprinting Murray not only reach the ball, but to strike it with such power and accuracy that there is nothing they can do. And, he can do this off of either side, going in any direction. That is a seriously tough shot to play, yet it has come to the point where I almost expect them from him every match.
Murray also gets a lot of stick for his, let’s say, occasionally less than charismatic displays in public. It’s worth noting that he didn’t choose to be a celebrity… he chose to be a tennis player. He has definitely relaxed over the past few years in the face of the media, and has seemed happier since he tied the knot with Kim Sears, but he will never reach the ease with which Federer speaks multiple languages all with pure class, or Djokovic’s witty charm. I will admit to being less impressed with his occasional on court frustration, but as a player myself I can relate to the emotion, and can only imagine how much more intense it must be playing in front of thousands of people. It shows he cares, and as long as he is giving his all, what more can we really ask?
Britain may not see a tennis player of Murray’s calibre for a long time. Undoubtedly he has a few years left in the tank for an heir to emerge, but at some point in the future he will no longer be playing, and I think it may only be then that we appreciate what a player Andy Murray was. He has had to battle some of the best players in history, as well as numerous injury problems and changing coaches, all in front of a massively expectant British public. The perfect human being Murray may not be, but he will surely go down as a legend of the British game.