A few days ago I read a news story that resonated with me.
The story wasn’t about a heroic act, or a political crisis, it was about a sportsman who might have to retire from the sport he loves.
For those of you don’t know, and don’t hail from the UK, the tennis player Andy Murray is likely to retire after this month’s Australian Open tournament due to persistent issues with his hip.
Murray is one of the greatest sportsman the UK has produced. He won 3 Grand Slam titles, which included becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years.
Growing up in the UK, this was a national obsession every summer when Wimbledon came around. The clamour for a homegrown winner of the tournament was relentless.
This was only compounded by a number of near misses from Tim Henman and Murray himself. Winning Wimbledon in 2013 cemented Murray’s legacy as one of the country’s greatest sportsman.
However, despite all his achievements it took a long time for Murray to be loved by the British public. Indeed, there are probably still some people who remain ambivalent towards him now.
A lot of this is down to Murray’s character. He is honest, fiery and had a reputation, wrongly I might add, as being boring early on in his career. There was also the issue of him being from Scotland.
It was often said that Murray was British when he won and Scottish when he lost, so polarised was the view of him by the British public at the time.
Despite all this, Murray was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year a record three times. Not bad for a man who was considered boring!
Boring or not, Murray is a man of conviction. I’m in awe of his ability to put negativity to one side and be true to himself. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for someone in the public eye.
Staying true to ourselves is no easy feat, but it is essential if we want to prosper and succeed in life.
Before Murray won the first of his three Grand Slams at the US Open in 2012, he was considered to be someone who cracked under pressure. The term he use in the UK is a bottler. He had appeared in four previous finals, including the Wimbledon final a few months his maiden victory, and lost every one.
Three of those losses were to Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player ever, yet the talk afterwards was all about Murray’s seeming inability to perform on the biggest stage.
There was a belief that he would be doomed to failure. The gangly, awkward kid from Scotland would not scratch the itch that the British public fixated on, winning at Wimbledon.
It would have been easy for Murray to become disillusioned at this point. The constant sniping and jibes about his character and temperment must have been difficult to take.
None of this was Murray’s fault. He was playing in era with three of the best tennis players in history, Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, and Federer. In any other era, Murray would have been a multiple Grand Slam champion already.
Many people would have cracked under much less pressure, but Murray held firm. Sure in his beliefs and convictions he knew he did not need to change, only to stay true to himself and who he was.
The breakthrough for Murray came when he won Olympic gold in 2012. His victory on the Wimbledon courts imbued him with the belief that he could beat the top players in the world, it also convinced the public.
A lot of the issues surrounding Murray come down to the idyoscncriacies regarding the British. Despite all the progress in recent years, the UK is still divided among class lines. This only becomes more pronounced when discussing differences between the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish.
Wimbledon is the epitome of Middle England, a tournament where strawberries and cream are regularly served, where Pimms is the drink of choice and where tennis players, especially those from our shores, are supposed to behave in a certain manner.
Murray was the antithesis of all of this. The angry, swearing Scot wore his heart on his sleeve, and could not have been more different from the crowds previous darling, Tim Henman, who was quiet, understated and deemed the ideal son-in-law.
It would have been easy to cave in to the intense pressure he faced, but Murray held firm. When asked about his demeanour, Murray only had this to say:
“You need to try and be yourself as much as possible, but at the same time, if people don’t like you, it’s not really your problem. You need to make sure that you stay true to yourself.”
This attitude has served Murray well during his life. His conviction and steadfast acceptance of who he was, resulted in him becoming loved by the British public.
It was not until his loss to Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final, when he broke down in tears in the post-match interview, that the wider public warmed to him. By being himself in moments of triumph and despair, Murray had convinced the naysayers.
Murray’s refusal to be anything other than himself is one of the reasons I have a lot of respect for him. There is no understating the intense pressure he was under before he won Wimbledon in 2013.
This was a man that grew up in the media spotlight. Every utterance and tantrum on court was forensically analysed. Yet, through it all Murray held firm.
There is no truer test of a person’s character than this, especially when you are in the public eye. To be your own person, when all around you implore you to change is a tough test.
Not everyone will like you for it, but they will have your respect. To cave in, would be to live a lie. A life that is not true to one’s convictions is no life at all.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Murray. His acceptance by the British public marked a shift in their attitude towards him, rather than a shift in Murray’s.
His ‘boring’ nature was redefined as him being down to earth. His honesty and passion which alienated the public now came to be seen as a mark of his integrity. He would not shy away from tough issues, be it equal pay for women in tennis, doping or match-fixing, Murray would speak his mind on the topic.
Looking back, it is hard to see why such a fuss was made about Murray’s character. We seem to have this idea that those who are lucky enough to be able to perform in their sport at the highest level, should enter the arena fully formed and devoid of imperfections.
This is missing the point. It is those very imperfections that make them all the more likeable. Murray was no exception. We shouldn’t aim to sanitise these people, we should celebrate them for who they are.
I hope Murray is able to battle through his injury woes and continue, but the prognosis does not look promising. If he is to retire, he will leave the sport as one of it’s best players, and go down as one of, if not the, greatest sportsman in British history.
All of this, while remaining the same determined, fiery and uncompromising kid from Dunblane, Scotland.