OLIVER HOLT: Outsider Andy Murray rebuilt our faith in sport

I have a photograph on the wall at home, at the bottom of the stairs. I stop to stare at it now and again and the wonder of it never quite leaves me. 

It is a picture of Centre Court at Wimbledon. It shows the digital clock on the scoreboard reading 5.24 in the afternoon. The length of the match, which has just finished, is recorded as 3.10.

All around, people are standing and applauding. Many have both their hands raised high above their heads. Some are taking pictures with their mobile phones. Some are looking at each other in exultant amazement. Two line judges stand with their legs wide apart at the back of the court, still in match mode, as if they have been frozen by the magnitude of what has just happened.

I can see myself in the picture, in the press box. I have been at a few big events in the past 30 years covering a variety of sports in a variety of places around the globe but this instant frozen by the photo on July 7, 2013 is the greatest sporting moment I have ever witnessed.

At first, when Novak Djokovic had hit the final shot of the match into the net, his conqueror had turned to the press box and shaken his fist in triumph. The photo captures the scene a few seconds later. In the foreground, a man is on his knees on the far side of the net, his head in his hands, his face pressed to the turf. The man, of course, is Andy Murray.

For that moment and many more, the first emotion many of us feel when we think about Murray, who signaled in Melbourne last week that his career is drawing to a close, is gratitude.

It has been a privilege to watch him play but more than that, it has been a privilege to be in his orbit. Never meet your heroes, they say, but that was never an adage to be applied to Murray.

Sometimes, in a modern sporting landscape complicated by accusations of drug use or diving or disloyalty or betting scams or bullying, we feel afraid to hold someone up to the light of adulation in case we see what lurks beneath the veneer. It has never been that way with Murray.

Murray has always stood for decency in sport. Some people smile for the camera and snarl away from it. They are fake. Murray is not fake. He is not capable of being fake. The personification of self-deprecation, the opposite of flash, he has always been a man to admire, on and off the court.

His dry wit bemused fools in his youth and led a few dullards to say he was boring, but his readiness to stand up for what he believed in, whether that be Scottish independence or gender equality or drug-free sport, set him apart from the studied blandness so many sports stars embrace.

The Scot, who is being forced to quit at the age of 31, has changed our sporting topography and updated one of our most venerated institutions. Until Murray came along, Wimbledon was a place where generations of the British went to gaze at themselves in parody.

The strawberries and cream, the tittering of the crowd, the Robinsons Barley Water, the Royal Box, the blazers and the servicemen at gangway entrances were all escapist echoes of our past, protected from the wider world in an enclave that is our version of Augusta National.

We weren’t in it to win it. That was a ridiculous notion. Winning it was for Americans, Swedes and the Swiss. Or one Swiss. Patriotism ended by the middle Saturday and then we sat back and watched John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker and Pete Sampras hold court.

Even when Tim Henman came along, and even though he remains a vastly underrated player whose effect on the British game is too often ignored, no one quite believed he was ever going to be the first British man to win the tournament since Fred Perry in 1936. Like Roger Taylor before him, we always knew somehow that he was destined to fall short.

Murray changed all that. He changed the idea that tennis in the UK was for posh boys and dilettantes. He was the antithesis of the Toby and Amanda British tennis club stereotype. If there was one thing more unlikely than an Englishman winning Wimbledon, it was a Scot winning Wimbledon.

Murray was an outsider who did not fit the Lawn Tennis Association’s idea of what a world-beater would look like. Not that he was interested in conforming to any template formulated by the game’s governing body in the UK. He and his family already blamed the LTA for damaging the career of his elder brother, Jamie.

So he did it all by himself. All by himself, he transformed our view of one of our most popular sports. Until Murray, Britain plus tennis equaled failure. Since before the Second World War anyway. We don’t think like that any more. We think that if Murray could overturn such improbable odds, then others can, too.

We think that if Murray could win three Grand Slam titles in the era of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Djokovic then he is an example to anyone who sets limits on what they can achieve. He won those titles because of his ability, yes, but also because of his commitment, his dedication, his doggedness and the strength of his will.

‘When you search for examples of “emptied the bucket to be as good as they could be”,’ Darren Cahill, the respected Australian former player and coach said, ‘there should be a picture of Andy Murray sitting under that quote. Remarkable discipline for training, competition, sacrifice, perfection… a legend of a bloke. Bravo Andy.’

Like all the best sportsmen and women, the boundaries of Murray’s greatness stretch beyond sport. A survivor of the horrors of the mass shooting at Dunblane Primary School, he has lived his life as if he is determined to treasure every single moment of it and coax every last drop of excellence from it.

His greatest moments came at Flushing Meadows, the All England Club, an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Ghent where he led Great Britain to victory in the Davis Cup, and an arena at the Olympic Park south of Rio de Janeiro where he won his second gold medal at the 2016 Games.

His greatest achievements are different. He has brought joy back to a community that had suffered grievously, he has helped rebuild our faith in sport when so many have been found to have feet of clay, he dedicated himself utterly to being the best he could be and, through his principles, humour and modesty, he stayed true to himself.

OK, so Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa sending someone to spy on Derby’s training session was not quite the epitome of the Corinthian spirit but I still don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about. 

If you see someone hanging around your training ground who isn’t wanted, kick them out. Or build a bigger fence. Problem solved. 

The idea that Manchester City disrespected Burton Albion by refusing to take it easy against them on the way to their 9-0 Carabao Cup semi-final first leg win is laughable. 

City showed them the utmost respect by refusing to relent. Only if City had started to play with pity could Nigel Clough’s side have been humiliated. Both teams gave it everything to the end, which meant Burton preserved their dignity.

There is a moment in the stunning documentary film Free Solo, which I went to see last week, where climber Tommy Caldwell describes the size of the task facing Alex Honnold as he prepares to try to become the first person to scale the 3,000ft cliff face of El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes.

‘Imagine an Olympic gold medal-level athletic achievement where if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die,’ Caldwell says. 

Sport climbing will be an Olympic event in Tokyo next year and if it does not quite live up to the drama of Free Solo, at least the price of failure will not be so extreme.

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