Paul Higham pens an emotional farewell to Andy Murray and says he deserves to be recognised as one of Britain's all-time greatest sports stars.
Sir Andy Murray will be calling time on his glittering tennis career this year and while you can argue either way about where he stands in the pantheon of British sporting greats, it’s clear that he needs to be recognised as one of most influential achievers we’ve ever seen.
There’s still a surprising air of negativity in some quarters surrounding Murray and his achievement. Whether it comes from the laughable Scottish v British argument or the general dismissive attitude towards tennis, it’s astonishing that he’s not held in higher regard by some.
The list of his achievements is staggering, in a sport that Britain has traditionally been second rate in, and perhaps more importantly coming in an era that has also contained three of the greatest players we’ve seen in tennis history all dominating in turn.
Three grand slams has been billed as ‘not enough’ but those three came in an era when just five men in 15 years not named Murray, Federer, Nadal or Djokovic walked away with the major prizes - it shows you just how hard it was to succeed.
Succeed he did though, and besides the grand slams, winning the Olympics and moreover the Davis Cup were tremendous achievements from a man who transcended tennis to become a British institution.
Murray carried the weight of a nation to unseen heights
What separates Murray from many is the same thing that usually elevates the good and the talented to the realms of the great – desire. That drive and passion, the single-minded desperation to get to the top of the tree.
From taking himself off to Spain as a youngster for coaching to bouncing back again and again from defeats – he lost his first four grand slam finals in a row – to eventually climbing to top of the tennis world.
There is perhaps no sporting title that carried more weight of expectation around it in world sport than a Brit winning the Wimbledon title, so when Murray lost the 2012 final to Roger Federer, his previously stoic demeanour shattered as the weight of trying to win Wimbledon came out in floods of tears.
If there was a turning point where the majority of the country then stood firmly behind Murray then that was it, but this wasn’t the start of another ‘plucky loser’ British sports star, as Murray quickly showed that he was able to use the thumping disappointment of defeat as a catalyst to elevate his game yet again.
Just a few weeks after that earth-shattering defeat, Murray was back on Centre Court at SW19 in the Olympic final against the same opponent – the great Roger Federer.
It shows the measure of the man Murray is that he coped with the pressure of being at a home Olympics, at the home of tennis, against the greatest player of all time, to not only beat him but lose just seven games in sweeping to the gold medal.
Andy Murray - a flagbearer for British sport
What followed on from that famous Olympics victory was the real making of Andy Murray – as he went on to win an epic US Open final against Novak Djokovic on a windy Monday night in New York.
The final had been moved after a weather delay and, while from a personal perspective that meant missing it and finding out he’d won on a plane back from the Big Apple, it was still a time of huge pride that Murray had finally broken through that grand slam glass ceiling.
Now for Wimbledon! And while many men may have crumbled after his 2012 defeat, Murray made the final for the second year running and this time destroyed Djokovic in straight sets to finally end that long wait to emulate Fred Perry.
That spell showed that Murray not only had the god-given tennis talents of a superstar, but indeed had that burning desire to achieve which sets him and other greats apart from the rest.
And while he must be celebrated for his individual achievements alone, perhaps his greatest achievement of all was somehow managing to bring the Davis Cup title back to these shores.
In such an individual sport, to put his body and his career on the line to help Great Britain get to the top of world tennis shows a patriotic streak that only adds to his list of traits that have him a must in the all-time greats list.
Climbing to the top of the world rankings was the final step on the ladder to greatness. In such a brutal, relentless sport as modern-day tennis, to get to world number one takes guts, skill and a consistency of performance that only a select few can attain – Murray being one of those is truly an outstanding effort.
The Murray legacy
The tearful comments from Murray in Australia suggest his tennis farewell could well come in Melbourne, but we’d all love him to some way, somehow, manage to wrap himself in cotton wool and get fit enough to play at Wimbledon this year.
Winning it looks out of the question, but being able to bow out on his own terms at the place that holds such a special place in his heart is the least he deserves after all he’s put into the game, and British sport in general.
The phrase ‘inspire a generation’ is bandied about all too often but Murray actually did make young kids pick up a tennis racquet, make it OK to have that desire and will to win and not be afraid of being confident in your own abilities.
That tennis hasn’t quite managed to build on having Murray around is to the shame of the authorities that run the game, but Murray’s done all he can with his performances on the court.
If the tributes that are coming in, including this one, seem too gushing for some it’s only because sports fans have seen enough mediocrity over the years in British sport to really appreciate when a true star comes along – and few have burned brighter than Murray.
If you’ve enjoyed watching Murray through the years, be it serious tennis fan or once-a-year Wimbledon watcher, then cherish those memories. We may never see the like of him again.