By Claire Stanley
Andy Murray’s Australian Open might be over for another year, but the resilient Scot proved beyond all reasonable doubt this week in Melbourne that he is most certainly not down and out.
Showing grit and stamina beyond his years, Murray defied all the odds stacked against him during his first two matches. He was written off by many before he had even taken to the court against 13th seed Matteo Berrettini and then again when he trailed by two sets and 5-2 in what became his longest ever match, an incredible comeback against home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis in a five set thriller (the 11th time he has won from two sets to love down).
It wasn’t to be against Roberto Bautista Agut last night in a packed Margaret Court Arena – but Murray can leave with his head held high after more than 14 hours on court.
My reflections on that match, having been there in person:
1: I can’t believe the audacity of Murray hitting some of the shots he – quite frankly – had no business hitting being a one-hipped man of 35 with 7,000 blisters on his feet.
2: It took Bautista Agut three and a half hours to beat Murray when at times the man could barely even move.
My second point is, of course, not a criticism of Murray but a nod to his sheer determination and dogged fighting spirit to never lie down, never give up. To never say it’s over until the last ball has been played. He fought until the very last point and I’m certain this week in Melbourne has earned him a legion of new fans who have been absolutely astounded by his resilience and passion for the game.
Whatever Murray has been doing with coach Ivan Lendl is working – his serve has improved (albeit he struggled with it against RBA due to the pain in his back and feet) and his forehand has strengthened. Dare I say he was giving off the vibes of 2016 Andy Murray more often than not over the course of those three matches? At the very least, he played better tennis than he did for the whole of last season. In a recent Murray Musings podcast I described 35 as being the perfect vintage. In his post-match interview on Saturday night, another 35 year old – Novak Djokovic – said 35 is the new 25. Maybe this old man is getting a new lease of life.
Four years ago I cried when I thought it was all over for him. I sobbed watching his pre-AO press conference and I bawled watching him fight back, but subsequently lose to (yet again) Bautista Agut in the first round. I was almost inconsolable when the AO organisers played his “retirement” tribute video.
I pride myself on being a words person but I do genuinely struggle to eloquently describe the impact Andy Murray has had on me over the years. It was my mum, a real tennis lover, who first introduced me to him way back in 2003 when he won a Futures tournament in Glasgow. It was definitely harder to follow players outside of the slams back then, and even more so for Andy since he was still a junior, but after he won the US Open juniors in 2004 the coverage on him increased. We would scour tournament results to see if he had played and how he had gotten on, and we followed his progress as a wild card at Queens Club in 2005 where he got his first ever ATP Tour win and made it to the third round. From then on we were hooked.
For years we watched him, hoping he could make that leap from phenomenal challenger to bona fide champion. We cried with him in 2008 when he lost the U.S. Open final to Roger Federer. We cried again in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when he lost the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals. There were tears of joy in August 2012 when he won his first of two Olympic gold singles medals. We cried even more when he won his first major at the U.S. Open in September that same year.
Finally – 2013 came around. Ten years ago now. We cried, cheered, cried some more when Andy, ever the underdog, came out fighting and unstoppable against Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, getting his hands on the trophy he coveted most.
My mum had terminal cancer at the time. When Andy won Wimbledon she said: “I’m so glad I got to see that. I always wanted to see that.”
She never got to see him lift the Davis Cup, win his second Wimbledon or become World Number 1 – but she always knew he had it in him.
People often ask me why I love Andy Murray so much. What is it about him? I’m not lying when I say it’s his grit and determination, and his ability to make tennis look difficult while proving to anyone that if they work hard enough, and want something enough, they can achieve it too…
But it’s also because Andy Murray got me through some of my darkest days – and he still does. I would rewatch matches that my mum and I watched together and remember the chats we would have while they were on, remember our armchair analysis of his play and the rallies and points that made us grasp hands and gasp out loud. My mum introduced me to the joy of Andy Murray and for as long as he plays I’ll always imagine her sitting next to me, watching his matches with me, hiding behind her hands or throwing her arms in the air. He brought her joy even in her sickest moments – and for that I will never be able to thank him enough.
The impact he has on his fans is profound – Andy Murray is superhuman and we are so, so lucky to have him. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.