December 18, 2015
On the face of it, the idea that Andy Murray should be crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year is a strange one.
After all, he won no Grand Slams in 2015 and beat no one of great note as he led Great Britain to Davis Cup glory.
Some of his rivals for Sports Personality might feel they defeated a higher quality of opponent in order to achieve what they did. Tyson Fury, for example, beat one of the most consistent and feared boxers on the planet, Wladimir Klitschko, to become World Heavyweight Boxing champion.
Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1 World Champ for the third time by seeing off his fiercest rivals, the best drivers (apart from him) out there – Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
Murray, in contrast, beat John Isner, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Bernard Tomic and David Goffin in key Davis Cup clashes. They really were the best of his opponents. Decent players, these guys, but habitual tennis also-rans in the Slams. That’s the brutal reality.
In athletics, meanwhile, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill returned from having a baby to conquer the world once more – an extraordinary achievement.
Long-jumper Greg Rutherford completed the full set and has now won everything there is to win in his sport – the Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles.Andy Murray doesn’t have the full set in tennis. He hasn’t won the French Open and he hasn’t won the Australian Open either. In fact he began 2015 by losing an Australian Open final he might well have won.
Indeed every time Murray came up against his most feared rivals, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in a 2015 Slam he came off second best.
So what’s it all about, this deep appreciation for Andy Murray in 2015?
First of all, he helped Great Britain to make history. They hadn’t won the Davis Cup since 1936. That’s 79 years – rather a long time.
Without Andy Murray, there was absolutely no chance GB could have won the Davis Cup – that much is clear. The emotion invested in the Davis Cup is huge. It’s the World Cup of tennis. The fans go crazy for it. The players do too, once they commit to a cause that takes so much out of them, for so much of the year.
They love the team spirit, something they miss on the singles circuit, when gladiatorial solitude and self-serving combat is normally the order of the day. That’s why Andy Murray called this GB team triumph his ‘most emotional moment’ in the sport.
In the Davis Cup, Murray got to do something special not just for his country but for fellow players, men who aren’t as good as him; he did something special for his GB teamates. Most poignant of all, they included his brother, Jamie, with whom he won many a key battle in the doubles. But Andy didn’t “carry” the GB team – because he inspired it too. So James Ward also beat Isner in the USA tie. And Jamie Murray held his own in those doubles thrillers and refused to allow set-backs to destroy his confidence, raising his game when it mattered to do his brother and his country proud. Even young Kyle Edmund depleted the energy resources of Belgium’s number one, David Goffin in the final by taking him to five sets in the opening rubber.
Andy Murray played eleven rubbers, including eight singles, in four ties spread over the year, bringing home the bacon against the USA, France, Australia and Belgium. He won every one of those eleven matches under the most immense pressure. A perfect record as he seized the moment and finally managed to create history, after a superb demonstration of sustained mental strength.
John McEnroe, a tennis legend, summed up Andy Murray’s feat well. He said, ‘He inspired other players, including his brother Jamie, to play to a level they weren’t sure they could play in such a pressurised atmosphere.’When he looks back on his career he’s going to take pride in doing that for the other guys and he’s going to look back at what he did, particularly playing three days in a row in the final, as something that’s going to be one of his greatest accomplishments.’
Andy put it slightly more modestly: ‘You can’t do it on your own; in the Davis Cup you’re relying on your teammates. My brother, obviously, performed extemely well. James Ward had a fantastic win, Kyle Edmund took Belgium’s number 1 to 5 sets in his first ever Davis Cup match. And it’s not just been about this year. It’s been five years of work that’s gone into this. Everyone deserves it.’
Everyone deserves it, sure, but no one would have done it without Andy Murray. That’s what makes him so special in 2015.It’s not about the people he has beaten…it’s about the people he has helped to win, and the people he has won for. It’s about the incredible pressure of expectation he handled each time he fought for his mates and his country, without once slipping up.
That’s what makes Andy Murray’s sporting story in 2015 so compelling and so charming…and ultimately so irresistible.
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