OPINION: Once upon a time a saturnine middle-aged Czech émigré came across a hard-working and talented Scottish boy who was lost in the woods. “Don't feel sorry for yourself,” said Ivan, the woodcutter. “Don't give up. One day you will win but you will have to go through a lot of pain to get there.” And so began the Fairytale of New York.
When Andy Murray finally won his first Grand Slam tennis title the official match time was four hours and 54 minutes, but the real duration of victory was a lifetime. Everything that Murray has worked for had finally come true. And the man who helped him fulfil his dream looked down from above and smiled.
Lendl smiles. At least we think it was a smile. It is hard to make a positive identification with so little evidence to go on. Murray himself wasn't sure. Lendl's upper teeth were faintly visible, as in a canine Bond villain who has just succeeded in blowing up the world, but he could have just been thinking about his next golf game.
“I think that was almost a smile,” said Murray.
Finally Lendl understood how the decent part of Britain has felt for the previous few years. The old Czech stoneface, the man who has never knowingly shown an emotion, had turned into a bag of nerves during yesterday morning's US Open final. He shuffled his hands, he grimaced, he squirmed and then, when Murray had finally become a major champion, yes, Lendl smiled.
How astute Murray had been when he asked Lendl to help him take the final step. Fred Perry, the last British men's champion to win in New York back in 1936, used to walk down Main Street with Marlene Dietrich or Bette Davis on his arm. Murray chose to hold hands with Lendl, a man whose idea of glamour is red knitwear.
Previously I doubt whether Murray could have resisted the momentum of Novak Djokovic's comeback to level the match from 2-0 down. The Serb had won 27 straight Grand Slam matches on hard courts. He had come from behind to beat Murray in five sets in the semi-final of this year's Australian.
A year ago Murray would have folded in a haze of "pity me", screaming abuse up at family and coaches in the box. But as John McEnroe predicted, Murray couldn't behave like that towards Lendl. The Czech just wouldn't put up with those sorts of tantrums from his adopted son. And so Murray rallied like never before.
Murray kept moving the tiring Djokovic from side to side. He improved his serve massively as Djokovic's own delivery creaked. He didn't blink when Djokovic retrieved one of his breaks. He played wall tennis with himself whilst Djokovic stalled on an injury time-out. Murray behaved like a winner.
These are weird times for Britain. How are they going to sort out the voting for Sports Personality of the Year? Murray becomes the first Brit since Perry to win a major and also just happens to win an Olympic gold by beating Roger Federer in the final. Bradley Wiggins becomes the first Brit to win the Tour de France and also wins Olympic gold. What chance poor Mo Farah and his double gold for winning the 5000 and 10,000 metres?
All are worthy winners, I just hope that Murray finally gets his due. There is a hateful part of England that has given the man vile abuse online because he is a Scot. Murray Mound or Murrayfield has never trembled with the same patriotic Wimbledon emotion as Henman Hill used to. “Space for Rent” read one sign a few years ago.
Some bigots have never appreciated Murray for who he is or what he might achieve. Murray always said he was a Brit, but there were usually more saltires out than union jacks and one British national newspaper disgracefully turned over his mother Judy for being a pushy mum. She was writing a column for that newspaper at the time.
Despite it all and despite the hopelessness of Britain's tennis programme, Murray kept his dignity and his drive. Questioned after one Wimbledon defeat as to whether he could move on, Murray said: “I'll move on very quickly and go and work on my game and improve and come back stronger. That's a pathetic attitude to have.”
And so Andy Murray has moved on to be Olympic and US Open champion. At the start of his absurdly premature autobiography Murray says: “Kipling's wrong by the way.” Murray, like Perry, was never the best loser. He has never treated triumph and disaster just the same. “Triumph is clearly better,” has always been Murray's motto.
It's not very British, some might say, but then Perry and Murray have both always had a taste for New York. They also share an odd distaste for certain fruit and vegetables. Perry once said that the best way to serve cucumber was to peel it, pour vinegar on it, add salt and pepper and then throw it out of the window. Murray's rage is pointed at the banana, pathetic, not straight and with a black bit at the bottom.
So if New Zealand tennis is looking for a tennis champion, the country might do well to invest in the misfit who despises the peach for being furry. Then send them overseas to learn the game. Weep and wail when they fail to win Wimbledon at the second attempt. And then employ an Eastern European to teach them tough love.
It worked for our Andy.
- Fairfax Media
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