Does Andy Murray No Longer Have To Carry British Tennis Alone?

January 17, 2013 3:13 pm

Andy and Jamie Murray

Fresh from his extraordinary exploits in 2012, Andy Murray has begun his 2013 Australian Open campaign in convincing style. Having removed the Grand-Slam-shaped monkey from his back, expectations grow that Andy can claim the Holy Grail of British tennis and win Wimbledon. However, he may finally get some help along from the rest of the British tennis professionals.

For longer than anyone can remember, the heavy burden of expectation created by British tennis fans has been shouldered by just one player. Back in the 1970s, the evergreen Sue Barker, was not a presenter, but a tennis player of the highest calibre, reaching the Wimbledon semi-final in 1977 after her glorious victory at the French Open in 1976. Her achievements would be overshadowed by the patriotic fervour aroused by Virginia Wade’s victory at Wimbledon in the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. In this era, however, the incredible achievements of British women were still regarded with less importance than the fluctuating performance of the men.

Arguably, the 1990s represented the nadir of British tennis, with a multitude of wildcards handed out at Wimbledon with little obvious benefit. The unhealthy state of the game was particularly shocking, as the country hosted the most lucrative and prestigious tournament of them all at the All England Club. Hope springs eternal though, and the hopes of a nation descended on the slender shoulders of an apparently timid man from middle England. The Great White Hope, and housewives’ favourite, had emerged. His name was Tim.

Tim Henman

For all the subsequent criticisms of his inability to win a Grand Slam, great credit must be given to Tim Henman. Peaking at number four in the world, he was a player of note; full of finesse and no little heart. Though he lacked the weapons to challenge the all-conquering Pete Sampras (who did?), he was fully committed and talented. He carried the weight of an nation’s expectations alone (Greg Rusedski would provide competition and reach a US Open final, but the naturalised Canadian was never taken to British hearts), and reached the Wimbledon semi-final four times, as well as those of the French and US Opens. Constantly ridiculed for his fist pump celebration and almost blank demeanour, he was the finest British tennis player since Fred Perry. Without Tim, there could be no Andy.

Andy Murray would struggle at times after his initial emergence as a talented player for one plain fact: he wasn’t Henman. With a constant frown, thick Scottish accent and scruffy hair, many longed for the return of Henman. Yet Andy Murray  would surpass all of his achievements by constantly challenging, and beating, the top three players in the world, and possible of all time, in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Murray reached four Grand Slam finals, including being the first British Man in a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938, but lost all three. Questions were raised over his temperament, but he would lay ghosts to rest in a golden summer. Emerging with a Gold Medal from the Olympics at Wimbledon, he would go on to claim the US Open title on a blustery Flushing Meadows after a titanic battle with Djokovic in late 2012. The wait was over.

Now, as 2013 dawns and the Australian Open starts to develop, British tennis can begin to look at itself in the mirror with increasing pride. Aside from Murray’s phenomenal achievements (and strong start to the year), there is hope elsewhere too. In the long derided women’s game, there is the potential for real growth over the next decade. Enduring stalwarts, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, are consistently ranking inside the top 100, whilst young Johanna Konta is threatening to become a fixture in the Fed Cup team. However, the real excitement comes from the burgeoning rivalry between Laura Robson and Heather Watson. Close friends off court, the teenagers are now in the top 50 of the world and participating in Grand Slams regularly. A junior champion at Wimbledon aged 14, Robson is a more attacking player, with weapons to hurt opponents, shown as she won Silver alongside Andy Murray in the Mixed Doubles at the 2012 Olympics, before storming to the fourth round of the US Open–beating Slam winners, Kim Clijsters and Li Na, along the way. Watson, a more consistent and athletic player, became the first British woman to win a ranking event for 24 years at the end of 2012.  Both have just qualified for the third round of the draw after superb comebacks and their momentum is building with each match.

Jamie Baker

There are other causes for optimism. Jamie Baker qualified for the first round of the Australian Open this year, strengthening the support for Andy Murray in the Davis Cup team alongside Jamie Ward. In the doubles, there is the continued emergence of Colin Fleming as a strong player. Jonny Marray is a reigning Wimbledon Doubles champion, whilst Jamie Murray won the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2008 and continues to challenge.

By enjoying degrees of success across the game, the British players are making a name for themselves, but also assisting Murray in his ultimate goal; winning at Wimbledon, by deflecting some of the inevitable attention and expectation he has shouldered alone in recent years. By challenging one another and inspiring the next generation, like Ollie Golding and Liam Broady, the green roots of recovery are emerging for British tennis.

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