Andy Murray Wimbledon tribute: How his tennis and his titles played with our hearts

Andy Murray made you care.

That was his superpower. There were better players in his era; there were more stylish ones. But none possessed the ability to make you invest emotionally in their matches as much as Murray did.

As someone British, and the same age as Murray, I probably would have felt a degree of kinship however he’d played. But it went a lot deeper than that.

When he arrived on the scene as a scruffy 18-year-old in 2005, Murray seemed to experience tennis as I’d always experienced it: as an unbelievably frustrating sport that seemed almost designed to wind you up. Murray would moan and berate himself and do all the things that felt to me entirely natural. Why wouldn’t you scream in anguish after missing a shot you knew you should have made? That wasn’t odd. Even saying “Take your time, you d**k” after missing a serve, as Murray once did, wasn’t that odd to me. It was everyone else who was odd, somehow pretending that they were OK when they messed up.

Andy Murray’s emotions on court were part of his magnetism (Elsa/Getty Images)

Defending Murray against accusations of dourness, rudeness, and surliness that arose from his on-court demeanour became a bit of a passion of mine around this time. The fact a lot of people didn’t get him only made me get him even more and when those anti-Murray views became more entrenched after he joked that he would be supporting “anyone but England” at the 2006 World Cup, so did my defence of him.

For me, very much a committed England supporter, comments like this just showed off his dry sense of humour and his ability not to take the media circus too seriously. On the court, his complete determination, raw emotions and supreme athleticism added to his appeal — even if the habit that he could never kick of berating his team was a bit much. Murray was not perfect, but that was kind of the point — throughout it all, he was a potent combination of the superhuman and the relatable.

When we thought Murray was about to retire in 2019, friends reminded me of my habit from the mid-to-late 2000s: spending student nights out earnestly trying to explain to unsuspecting revellers why Andy Murray was misunderstood. In the same period, I remember making this point to a woman in Bedford who was trotting out the usual lines about how rude and boring he was. Eventually I relented, but in my mind, she had shown her true colours: how one felt towards Murray was a genuine bellwether for me about what they were really like. If you were unable to look beyond the lazy tropes about him, then that was you pretty much written off.

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Murray beamed around the world during Wimbledon 2009 (Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

On the flipside, bonds were strengthened with those people who could see how great and thoughtful Murray really was. “If you don’t like Andy Murray then we can’t be friends” became a good mantra to live by.

Clearly, this was all unhinged. But that’s the thing: Andy Murray made you care.



Fifty Shades of Andy Murray

Now, England are wobbling their way through Euro 2024, and Murray is saying farewell to Wimbledon after withdrawing from the singles tournament. He’ll make one last appearance with his brother Jamie in the doubles, and I’ll no longer feel that I have to convince all and sundry of how special he is.

On those student nights and in my early days as a real adult at the end of the 2000s, it was apparent that Murray, a phenomenally talented player in his own right, had been dealt a hand of almost unprecedented difficulty. He was competing with two of the best players of all time in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; with Novak Djokovic, who was emerging and about to go supersonic; and with the weight of British tennis history growing heavier and heavier as his talent sharpened and the margins got finer. Murray was not a demigod like the elegant Federer or the muscular Nadal, but rather a man, growing into his ill-fitting clothes and trying to compete with them. Murray played the role of the outsider giving absolutely everything to stay on their otherworldly level perfectly.

At times he resembled Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant, snarling and battling in the wilderness to stay alive, only for another terrifying beast to jump out at him moments later. And we were right there, living it with him. I remember watching his miraculous recovery against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2008 from the corporate marquee at the tournament where I was supposed to be working. Seven months later I stayed up until around 4am to see him lose to Fernando Verdasco in five sets at the Australian Open, in one of those infuriatingly tetchy and drawn-out defeats he would sometimes suffer at that time.

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Andy Murray after his 2010 Australian Open defeat to Roger Federer (Jon Buckle/PA Images via Getty Images)

As he grew as a player, he was belatedly winning the hearts and minds that I couldn’t in those university nightclubs. Before he was crying on Centre Court at Wimbledon — as he delivered the “I’m getting closer” line that would become prophetic after losing the 2012 final to Roger Federer — he was crying in the Rod Laver Arena in Australia after losing to the same opponent in that final in 2010. “I had great support back home in the last couple of weeks, sorry I couldn’t do it for you tonight,” Murray said.

“I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him.”

It was winning the 2012 Olympic gold medal — avenging his Wimbledon defeat to Federer on the same court — that secured him a place in most peoples’ hearts. He could soon and suddenly do little wrong, winning his first major at the US Open a month after the Olympic triumph, then ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a Wimbledon men’s champion the following summer, putting everybody watching through an excruciating final game. Speaking in Andy Murray: Will to Win, a new BBC documentary, he explains how much Wimbledon meant to him, but also to everybody watching him.

“After I won it was just relief,” he says. “It was my most important match, as I believe if I was sitting here today having not won Wimbledon, then everything else I achieved in my career wouldn’t matter.”

Another Wimbledon title and another Olympic gold, plus the Davis Cup and the world No 1 ranking, followed in the next few years. He was Team GB’s flag bearer at the 2016 Rio Olympics and between 2013 and 2016, Murray won three out of four BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards — voted for by the public and a sign of the complete transformation of perceptions about his, well, personality.

Andy Murray Rio Olympics

The Scot claimed his second gold by beating Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in four sets (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Murray had well and truly gone mainstream.

Sometimes doing that can bring out the worst in people, but Murray used his greater profile to talk about issues that mattered to him. Like gender equality, about which he has spoken frequently — including when he took the then and still unconventional step of appointing a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo, before defending her from the misogynistic criticism that followed.

He was also a great support to his compatriots, practising with them, offering advice, watching their matches even if it was late and cold and he was playing the following day. A couple of weeks ago, a day after suffering a bad injury at Queen’s, he was courtside watching the Scottish 17-year-old Charlie Robertson playing pre-Wimbledon qualifiers. In 2016, a few days after winning his second Wimbledon title, Murray flew to Belgrade to join up with the British Davis Cup team for their tie against Serbia. He was in no state to play, but there he was, cheering on his mates and acting as ball-boy in training.

On a personal level, I was now covering tennis professionally, getting to see Murray up close after following him from a distance. Never meet your heroes? Not so much. Murray was generally extremely impressive with the media and I was sat a few seats away when he reminded a journalist that only no American “male player” had reached a Grand Slam semi-final since 2009. Murray called out others, like commentator John Inverdale at the Rio Olympics, for similar slip-ups around the Williams sisters, eventually playing with Serena herself in the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2019.

That “male player” line came after Sam Querrey beat Murray in the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals and the defeat represented the end of one chapter and the beginning of another for the Scot. Murray was the world No 1 at the time and a shoo-in for the closing stages of Grand Slams, but his hip was damaged beyond repair and Murray would never be the same again.

The next time he played was 11 months later, ranked No 156, post-first hip operation and with his movement hugely hampered. He tried and failed to get fit for Wimbledon and six months later was so broken at the 2019 Australian Open that he revealed that the end could be nigh. The event even put on a retirement celebration for him. Murray wasn’t quite done though and after a hip resurfacing operation, he came back and somehow won an ATP title nine months later in Antwerp.

Since then there’s been a lot of struggle and it’s sobering to think of how long Murray has been so physically disadvantaged. It’s seven years since the first hip injury in 2017, barely shorter than the eight-year period when he was reaching major finals. For people of a decent age, the only Murray they’ll really remember is the one of the last few years, raging against the dying of the light and unable to have another deep run at a Grand Slam tournament — the third round is his best progress since 2017.

Winning that title in Antwerp with a hip replacement still has to rank as one of the outstanding achievements of his career and last summer he then climbed to a highest-ever post-operation ranking of No 36, which is a remarkable achievement considering the depth of talent and athleticism on the tour.

He still managed to produce one last mind-bending win at a Grand Slam — the epic, near six-hour, five-set comeback against Thanasi Kokkinakis at last year’s Australian Open, which finished after 4am local time and exemplified everything that made Murray who he was on a court. He had what felt like a magnetic attraction to drama; only two days earlier, he had been involved in another marathon win, this time over Matteo Berrettini, saving a match point in a contest that lasted more than four and a half hours.

Murray, fittingly, marked the Kokkinakis win with both a point of truly impossible defence and a soundbite for the ages: “It’s so disrespectful that the tournament has us out here until three, f****** four in the morning and we’re not allowed to take a piss.”

“The GOAT when it comes to pure WTFery” I called Murray at this time, and at this point covering football, not tennis, my phone lit up with messages from fellow Murray acolytes during the Kokkinakis match saying, “Are you watching this?”

Many others would have been sending and receiving similar messages because this was what Murray did. He brought people together, united by a feeling of being part of a club that had always loved and understood him when others didn’t. Of messaging one another in the early hours when he was playing in Australia or the U.S. and asking: “You still watching?”

Of course we were. Just as whatever their job, so many would have been sneakily watching him playing Jordan Thompson at Queen’s two weeks ago hoping for some late-career fireworks. They didn’t arrive. Instead, there was more injury pain, a neural issue in his back that hampered him even walking up the stairs to the court and disappointment his many fans felt acutely as he tried once again to battle through the pain. He couldn’t recover from the subsequent surgery in time for this year’s Wimbledon.

It’s hard to imagine the sport without Murray, whose career lasted just over half my life. Players come and go all the time, but in individual sports, unlike team ones, you don’t make a decision in childhood about who you root for and then stick with it for life. You don’t know who you will have an affinity with until you watch them and often the ones you have that connection to surprise you. It’s a deeply personal thing and that’s what makes it special and powerful. People whose views you normally agree with can feel the exact opposite to you about a certain player because the chemistry is different.

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The knowledge he had finally done it, after winning his first Wimbledon in 2013 (Bill Murray/SNS Group via Getty Images)

And so you find yourself arguing with them about those players in the early hours of the morning while others look at you and think, “What are you doing with your life?”

But that’s the thing: Andy Murray makes you care.

(Top photos: Clive Brunskill, Rob Carr, Shaun Botterill / Getty Images; Design: Dan Goldfarb for The Athletic)

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