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.
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.
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.
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.