Maturing Murray the Protagonist in British Tennis’ best fortnight in 35 years

Andy Murray’s four-set defeat to Roger Federer in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon may have been a bitter blow for Murray and his ever-growing fan-base to take but his well navigated journey through to the final, in which he gave his all, proved to arguably be the highlight in what was ultimately a very encouraging couple of weeks for British tennis.

Murray Wimbledon 2012

Murray took another step closer to Grandslam glory but was denied by the wonderful Roger Federer

He may have been the star of Britain’s Wimbledon fortnight but for a change he wasn’t alone in bringing joy to the ever-faithful British tennis following who battled through some of the worst conditions the All England Club has ever had to deal with during their busiest period of the year. Thank god we now have a roof on Centre!

In the women’s championship the British fans were treated to predictable opening round victories for Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha before second round exits for the pair and to the equally predictable host of first round exits but among the first round exits was that of Laura Robson who continues to look more and more adept at Grandslam level in spite of her loss.

Topping Robson’s efforts though was Heather Watson who played as well as we have ever seen the youngster manage at Grandslam level in convincing straight-sets victories in the opening two rounds, even if she did then go on to get firmly put in her place by eventual ladies finalist Agnieszka Radwanska in round three. It may not seem that exciting on the face of it that one of our female competitors managed to make the third round but she was the first to do so in a decade which was great to see from one so green.

In the men’s championship there was also a couple of rays of light to accompany Watson’s showing and Murray’s best performance at Wimbledon to date. These came from youngster Oliver Golding who threatened an opening round victory over the very experienced Igor Andreev before losing in four sets on his Wimbledon men’s debut and James Ward who managed a victory in the opening round of his Wimbledon bow before losing in five sets to 10th seed Mardy Fish.

The fact that Golding’s tight opening round loss, Ward’s debut victory and Watson’s run to the third round are being seen as encouraging signs may reek of desperation amongst British tennis fans to see the good in what is really a disappointing crop of players but it does seem that British tennis is slowly improving across the board and that our group of British females in particular are beginning to make more of an impression at the highest level.

The two genuine success stories though for British tennis during Wimbledon fortnight were those of Johnny Marray who became the most unlikely of victors in the men’s doubles with parter Frederik Nielsen and of Andy Murray who took his quest for Wimbledon and Grandslam glory a step further in reaching his first Wimbledon final and in winning his first ever set in the final of a Grandslam event.

Marray Nielsen

Who had honestly seen Marray play before Wimbledon fortnight? I know I hadn’t!

Marray and Nielsen’s win in the men’s double may not match up to what might have been had Murray landed the men’s singles title but it is an achievement which must lift the heart of all real British fans. It really has made for an astonishing tale of triumph against all the odds and it was a pleasure to watch Marray become the first British man in over 70 years to lift  the men’s doubles trophy and the first Brit to win a senior’s Wimbledon title since Jamie Murray won the mixed with Jelena Jankovic a few years back.

It was genuinely exciting as a British tennis fan to get to watch two of our players make the finals of their respective competitions this weekend and though Marray’s triumph would have been sacrificed by nearly all British fans in exchange for a Murray triumph in his final it was still an enormous pleasure to behold both matches and Murray far from undersold himself in his defeat.

Though we have still been left longing for a winner of a men’s singles victory in one of the four Grandslam events, Murray’s performance in the final and the performances he produced in the previous rounds of the tournament were beyond anything that we have seen from a male competitor in a Grandslam since Fred Perry way back in the 1930’s and the demeanour which Murray has shown throughout the competition was so much more positive and endearing than anything we have seen before from the young Scotsman.

I have always been frustrated by the criticism which Murray has been targeted with by many Brits in that he is a professional sportsman and not a comedian or a tv personality but I concede that it would be beneficial for Murray to become more endearing and engaging as a public persona and I hope that not only his interview blubbing episode but also his on-court and off-court character, throughout the entirety of this tournament in particular, has helped him in becoming so.

I personally have always managed to see something beyond the ‘dour’ and ‘bleak’ public persona which people have attributed to Murray but the past couple of weeks in particular have definitely seen him become a little more at ease with the glare of the media and of the expectant British nation and perhaps it is this sense of Murray maturing and becoming more comfortable with the limelight which has made him get closer than ever before to winning a Grandslam title.

Hopefully this perceived improvement and greater demonstration of his emotions will continue to have a positive effect on his game and I think it is clear to most now that Murray can win a Grandslam title and that he probably will do at some point. If he needs any greater source of belief to cling to than his own undoubted ability in his unrelenting quest to become a Grandslam winner, then he would do well to look to Johhny Marray’s success story for inspiration.

Marray and Nielsen’s win may have been something of a ‘freak’ victory but perhaps it will take something freaky for Murray to finally get past the awesome trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in a Grandslam event, which I for one think he will do at some point in the next couple of years.

Call me deluded but I honestly think he will not only go the distance once in a slam but that he will still go on to win more than one. Perhaps this is far too much wishful thinking on my part though… We can but dream….

Moody Murray No Longer?

The public perception of Andy Murray both on and off the court has always been a little strained.

He has established an on court persona which has led many to believe he is just a spoilt kid with a lot of talent. This perception has always seemed immensely unfair to me given the circumstances existant within contemporary tennis. He is, as we are constantly reminded, still a young man. Not only this but he is a young man that is desperate to achieve highly in what is arguably the most competitive era that men’s tennis has ever seen. To outclass and outshine all comers and then fail to jump the final hurdle against the likes of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic must hurt him. As such it must be incredibly frustrating for a talented individual like Murray who arguably would have already won a handful of Grand Slam titles if he were competing in a slightly weaker era.

Murray beginning to show a lighter side

Such frustration does tend to manifest itself in on-court agitation and tantrums, but this is true of legends such as John McEnroe also. Could it be that such strops became rather an endearing quality within McEnroe’s game? There was certainly a greater air of comedy about his personal outbursts and umpire conflicts than Murray’s expressions of his own low temper threshold. Is Murray really that much more negative though that he is deserving of the wave of stick that he tends to be subjected to? Perhaps not.

In addition to his on-court problems, Murray has forever endured public scrutiny for his media relations. Of course we would love all the world’s major sports stars to be at ease in front of the media and rattling out streams of memorable press conferences, but that simply isn’t Murray. It is not in his nature. Naturally he is a fairly shy man off the court and as such he doesn’t exactly relish being constantly thrust into the gaze of the media. He has needed to accept that such attention comes as part of the package of status and privilege, but still it is hardly surprising that he often loathes such spotlighted treatment.

Downcast Murray in a Press Conference

Murray has become accustomed to such criticism, however, in recent times he has seemed to break these shackles. Whether this is resultant of a conscious decision to boost his public image or not is unclear. One thing is clear though, and that has been this recent transition and increasing popularity.

Maybe such a transition can be attributed to an ever-increasing realisation that Murray is well and truly up against it. Perhaps the public are merely beginning to demonstrate a greater understanding of the depth of competition which Murray must face in order to go on and win a Slam. Couple this understanding with Murray’s improving on-court temperament and the predicament begins to make more sense.

We know for sure that Murray has invested time in improving the psychological side of his game. This has included meetings with fellow British sporting talents such as David Haye, a man Murray admires greatly. Scarcely could you encounter two sports men with more differing approaches to the media spotlight, and the very fact that Murray has sought Haye out could be indicative of his desire to enhance his public image. It could well be that such meetings and advice have contributed to Murray’s recent exhibitions of ‘show-boating’ on the court.

This has been evident in his recent grass-court victories over Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Ivan Ljubicic. These performances have seen Murray unleash what is in danger of becoming a trademark shot where he elegantly performs something of a step-over combined with the cheekiest of dinks through his legs. Such ‘peacock-ing’ in high profile victories is something which requires immense confidence and self-belief coupled with a desire to entertain beyond the call of duty. Perhaps this arrogant edge and willingness to amuse the public is a major sign of Murray’s growth into a greater sporting personality.

His now famous Trick Shot

Murray has dismissed his new trick shot as just something which he does to mess around in training and something which he is scared will make him look a “plonker”. So far in competitive matches though it has a 100% record of success as each of these audacious strokes have been winners.One would think that if he continues to play the role of the exhibitionist that  it will provide himself and the media with a point of interest for all that surrounds his game, something which is likely to allow Murray to gain admirers.

After a couple of days away form the court Murray will have to return on Monday to take on the wiley Richard Gasquet in what on paper appears to be a very tough and attractive match. We await to see if he will again take on the role of chief entertainer as the anticipation and hopes of the nation begin to reach fever pitch once again.