On November 5, Andy Murray became the world number one in the most unobtrusive manner: a walkover in the semi-final of the Paris Masters after an injured Milos Raonic withdrew from the tournament. It was a subtle way in which to achieve the milestone, but perhaps fitting given his subtle tennis career in the era of Rafa, Roger, and Novak.
People often express surprise or amusement upon hearing that I am a Murray fan. I’ve always been a Rafa girl, through and through, but I remember when Murray became a close second. It was 2008, the fourth round match of Wimbledon, Murray (then seeded 12) against Richard Gasquet (seeded 8).
He was two sets to love down, absolutely outplayed in a brilliant display of tennis by Gasquet, and it didn’t look good. Then, in the third set, the tables slowly started to turn. Murray took it to a tiebreak, and despite a match point for Gasquet, dug into his mental reserves and the fitness levels he had recently worked very hard on to win the third set, and eventually, the match. It was a match that lasted nearly four hours, his first comeback from two sets to love down, and an electrifying victory that was burned into people’s memories.
That he subsequently played (and lost) against Rafa is irrelevant.. The sheer grit he displayed and the manner in which he emerged from a seemingly impossible situation – the very qualities I associate with Rafa and perhaps the reason I was drawn to them – put me squarely on Team Murray from that day on.
It was soon after that match – that year itself – that he won his first Masters title and clawed his way into the top four, a position he was associated with for a long time afterward. But despite achieving those milestones, it would be years before he would win a grand slam, years for which he would be dismissed and his status as one of the top four of tennis regularly questioned. Years for which the gap between him and the other three would seem immense and impossible to reduce.
To come across Murray fans is perhaps rare. There are enough Rafa, Roger, and Novak fans out there, but significantly less so for Murray (apart from the nation constantly throwing its weight on him, urging him to achieve a slew of firsts for the Brits).
Perhaps it’s another consequence of playing tennis in the Rafa-Roger-Novak era; there just wasn’t enough love left for him after accounting for the other three greats. Perhaps it’s his less-than-charming personality; he is known for being surly, often shouting at himself and his box during matches, slow to crack a smile. He doesn’t have the sincere humility of Rafa, the effortless charm and grace of Federer, or the light-hearted spirit of Novak.
Dismissed as the dour Scot, he is now slowly beginning to shed that tag as he allows us to see the other side of him, whether during emotional displays on court or through his sense of humour and sporting ability to poke fun at himself in videos.
From 2008, Murray has come a long way: a heart-breaking Wimbledon final loss to Federer, an Olympic Gold and victory against the very same Federer in a match that, fittingly played on Wimbledon’s Center Court, felt a lot like revenge, and his first grand slam title – the US Open, all in 2012.
The next year, the elusive Wimbledon victory that was finally his, which saw Henman Hill being nicknamed Murray Mound as the country celebrated the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years. And more recently, his second Wimbledon title this year, proving, decidedly, that the first was far from a fluke. As Rafa become increasingly injury-ridden, I found myself following Murray’s journey much more closely than I might have otherwise, and watched the utter domination he displayed this year.
Murray has had the misfortune, almost, of existing in the Rafa-Roger-Novak era, a time of such absolute supremacy of three men that it almost didn’t allow anyone else to reach the pinnacle of their sport. They haven’t let anyone outside of their elite club be world number one since 2004, and have exerted an ironclad control over grand slams; only four other men, Murray included, have won grand slams over the past ten years.
Despite the reign of three of tennis’ greatest during his prime, Andy Murray has finally achieved the status of the best tennis player in the world. For whoever has been watching his game, his form, his determination recently, there will be no doubt that it is a crown more than well deserved.