I’ll start with a confession. I don’t get very excited by tennis. For me, it falls into the same category as squash and sailing – great to take part in, but rarely compelling to watch. However, there’s no denying the levels of skill, stamina, mental strength and single-minded focus that it takes to play at the top level of any sport; and for Andy Murray, this weekend has seen him reach the pinnacle of the world men’s game.
Murray’s career stats reflect the sheer, bloody-minded determination that has got him to this point. He has set a new record for the longest period since records began for a player to wait from first achieving a world ranking #2 to going on to claim the top spot (7 years and 2 months if you’re interested); and he is the second oldest player (at the grand old age of 29 years) to debut in the top spot. To give you a sense of how hard it is to reach world number 1 in men’s tennis, he is only the 26th man to achieve the feat since the modern ranking system was introduced 43 years’ ago. Players of the calibre of Michael Stich, Giran Ivaniscevic, Tommy Haas and Michael Chang all made it to number 2 but failed to take the final step.
That Murray has achieved this whilst at the same time – and almost single-handedly – carrying the hopes of an entire nation (meaning the UK and not only his beloved Scotland) on his shoulders, simply makes the achievement all the more remarkable. And that he has done it without once compromising on his core principles, and whilst appearing to have kept his feet firmly on the ground, says much about his popular appeal, even while he appears to hate the press and media attention that comes with being a global sporting brand. Self-deprecating appearances in the audience of TV satirical news programmes such as Mock the Week, and his commitment to representing Great Britain in Davis Cup fixtures even to the detriment of his personal performance in ranking tournaments immediately following, have earned him deserved national treasure status (at a time when that term is – as Private Eye is quick to highlight – bandied around far too liberally.
At a time when role models and heroes are in short supply, youngsters setting out in the sport could do a lot worse than seek to emulate Murray. A true and deserving champion.