December 17, 2013
Never has a winner deserved the award more.
Sports Personality of the Year is a big deal in the UK. It is not won in a sporting arena, or chosen by some obscure panel of so-called experts. This is when the British public has the chance to decide who is the best and who has most captured the collective imagination. Above all, it is a simple display of affection – even love.
So consider the remarkable turn-around which has seen Andy Murray capture so many hearts. Described as a sullen, moody young Scot, disliked for a wrongly-perceived hostility towards the English, derided for a monotonous voice and previous failures during Wimbledon’s final stages, has transformed into a much-loved national hero. No. Make that our most-loved sporting hero. Now it is official.
So how has it happened?
Tears, sheer bravery and success against the odds did it for Andy. We all know the story. The devastation of his Wimbledon final defeat in 2012 touched all of us, especially when he burst into tears on Centre Court. Yet he bounced back to win Olympic gold a few weeks later – a display of courage and character which earned him third place in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards twelve months ago.
You don’t have to win Wimbledon to win Sports Personality of the Year – Greg Ruzedski proved that in 1997. But 2013 saw Murray do something many thought they would never witness in their lifetime. In the face of enormous, almost unbearable pressure, Andy became the first British man in 77 years to win the Wimbledon Singles title.
And he did it in the full glare of an excruciating media spotlight, which had proven his downfall in years gone by.
‘Poor boy’, his grandfather Roy Erskine confided to me in the build-up to the 2013 final against Novak Djokovic. Roy just couldn’t understand how one young man could be expected to face so much pressure alone. In the world of sport, perhaps no one ever has.
And even on the point of victory, it almost seemed he might choke. ‘It’s OK’, mouthed his mother Judy calmly, as one match point after another was squandered. It was a wonderful piece of parenting, although Andy later revealed that the more he saw her mouth those words, the more he realised it wasn’t OK, and that she didn’t really think it was OK either.
What sport sees relationships between loved ones played out in quite such stark, dramatic fashion? Isn’t that part of the beauty of Wimbledon? Doesn’t it sum up the emotional power of tennis?
After a previous Wimbledon defeat, the renowned actress Dame Maggie Smith claimed that Andy Murray needed to find ‘more animal’ within himself. Perhaps he did. But to win Sports Personality of the Year he had to display a softer, human side too. This he did, through tears, through humour and a greater willingness to share more of himself with us.
Tennis still comes first for Andy, so he couldn’t even be there to pick up the award in person. He was too busy training in Miami, but it didn’t matter. Once again, his words charmed us all. Murray now understands himself, just as he understands the way he used to be perceived.
In accepting the trophy from Martina Navratilova, he said, ‘I know sometimes I’m not the easiest person to support but I’ve had a lot of pressure on me for a long time…No matter how excited I try to sound, my voice always sounds boring – that’s just my voice. I’m sorry…’
That’s just his voice, because the rise and rise of Andy Murray has been anything but boring. Well done Andy! Has anyone ever deserved to win Sports Personality of the Year more? I doubt it. Year after year of Wimbledon disappointment and widespread derision, followed by such success, and such a display of love…You just couldn’t make it up.
And we can feel pretty confident that 2014 will produce another truly moving and dramatic story-line in the wonderful world of tennis, with Wimbledon the perfect stage, as it always will be.
Want to be in the theatre for the next award-winning story? Buy your tickets right here….
Mark Ryan, The Mail on Sunday