Oh Andy Murray! Just when we’d begun to understand you
Murray Mound has already been changed back to Henman Hill: it was always Tim they really loved
So, Andy Murray, the Scot with the rasping voice and never a natural darling of the Centre Court, is out of this year’s tournament: his three-sets defeat by the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov a resounding crash. Fall of a local hero? Scarcely. Murray’s home town of Dunblane in Scotland and the genteel strawberries-and-cream lawns of London SW19 are not just many hundred miles apart, but also light years away from each other in culture.
Murray reached the pinnacle of the game – in an era of truly great players – with no helping hand from the Lawn Tennis Association, which has squandered millions of Wimbledon revenue on a series of also-rans. With his dedicated and determined mother Judy, Murray made it from the blind side. Until he was clearly going to be a big-time winner, England’s success-starved tennis supporters did not take him to their hearts.
Tim Henman was the man who should have ended the post-war Wimbledon drought. He had everything the Home Counties tennis fan admired: well-spoken, conventionally upper middle class (the Henmans had a lawn tennis court at their home), polite, neat – even the name ‘Tim’ was reassuring to the Wimbledon faithful. He was, of course, a multiple semi-finalist, and he might well have won but for the ill luck of a rain interruption against Goran Ivanišević in 2001.
It was not to be, and in the vacuum left by the then undisputed British Number One along came the unlikely figure of Andy Murray, dressed as if heading for a knock-up on the local municipal courts. Aside from a kid out of an inner city estate (never a possibility in a country that thinks inner city kids should stick to soccer), it was hard to imagine anyone less likely to fill Henman’s shoes.
Off the Great British Public – or at least that part of it that tunes into Wimbledon – set on another “will he, won’t he?” emotional roller-coaster. Murray always showed more grit than Henman, so this time a “British” winner looked a better bet. After all, Fred Perry, the last winner in 1936, was in tennis terms from the wrong side of the tracks, and, having picked up the trophy three times, departed for the then despised ranks of professional players, leaving Wimbledon (as far as Brits were concerned) mainly to the gallant losers that the nation has so often taken to its heart.
Murray was so out of kilter with the English that he once “joked” that he would support any soccer team who were playing against England. This did not go down well with the Pimm’s crowd and lost Murray yet more English support.
Then, finally, a stroke of genius. Murray hired as his coach a proven winner in Ivan Lendl.
True, Lendl had never won Wimbledon, but he had won the other Grand Slams and, behind that look of an East European torture victim, exuded a steely confidence singularly absent from the vicar’s lawn game of English tradition. It worked: Lendl sat there, inscrutable, while Murray sweated beneath his gaze. The lead in the pencil, missing for so long from the British game, was back a lifetime after Perry.
Now Lendl has gone, replaced in a most unlikely manner by a former Wimbledon women’s singles winner, the French player Amélie Mauresmo. It didn’t seem likely that the magic – be it only psychological magic – instilled by Lendl would return. Murray suffers from too many demons and they are all too visible in his lack of self-control to succeed unless guided by a coach with an iron fist. The flawed player re-emerged and has won nothing since Lendl departed.
Will Murray be back?
The nerve-jangling build-up before every Grand Slam (especially Wimbledon) will resume its agonised way. But, and here’s a thought for the ultra-patriotic tennis scribes: if Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish independence movement, wins his September referendum, this time next year Murray may not even be British.
Already on Google Maps ‘Murray Mound’ has been consigned to the scrapheap of tennis history after some anonymous – and prescient – member of the public changed it back to ‘Henman Hill’.
Tim really was ‘their’ man all the time.