July 19, 2015
What do those tears tell us about Andy Murray?
He fought back from the brink against France’s Gilles Simon to secure Great Britain a first semi-final in 34 years. If GB can beat Australia in September, then only Belgium or Argentina will stand between Murray and Davis Cup glory. It would be GB’s first Davis Cup triumph for 79 years, since the days of Fred Perry.
So these are exciting times, and Murray would have been entitled to shed some tears of joy at Queen’s Club. But it didn’t look as though joy had sent them pouring down his face. These were tears of relief. And as he wept for a good minute or two, sitting on his seat with his face buried in his hands, you began to realise what this was all about.
Weeks of intolerable pressure, first at Wimbledon, where so many thought he would win, and then at Queen’s Club, where the nation’s hopes weighed heavily on his shoulders once more.
The way Roger Federer had crushed Murray at Wimbledon had hurt the sensitive Scot, who sometimes feels he has let people down in defeat. But it was at least Federer, the all-time-great, who had come up with one of his best performances when it mattered.
At Queen’s, Murray was struggling against Gilles Simon. Fine player as he is, Simon is no Federer, yet for long periods Andy looked second best. He was a set down and a break down against a man he was fully expected to beat. He even faced a break point to go further behind. Simon seemed able to do nothing wrong. Murray sank to his knees at the end of one long rally, his body language telling his opponent that he had reached crisis point.
Andy’s exertions with brother Jamie the previous day against Nicolas Mahut and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had taken their toll, yet that had widely been regarded as the crucial match. The Murrays had won it 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1. The trouble with playing Gilles Simon was that the British seemed to regard victory as a foregone conclusion.
And here Murray was, coming up short, disappointing people again, in his own mind at least. And for a while he just didn’t look capable of turning things around. If he didn’t do precisely that, his teammate James Ward might be at the mercy of Tsonga in the decider, and the British dream could soon lie in tatters. People would have said it was all Andy’s fault. The loneliness of that dark moment, even with the GB team willing you on just yards away, must be tough to take.
Murray had to find a solution. ‘I just tried to change my tactics,’ he said later. ‘I told myself to chase every ball down. I didn’t care how I played, i just wanted to win the match and that’s what I did.’
It was a close-run thing in that second set. He was behind in the tie-break more than once, just two points from leaving himself a mountain to climb without enough energy to do so. But somehow he turned the breaker around, took the third set with a trademark lob and exposed Simon’s physical problems ruthlessly in the fourth.
After completing that 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-0 victory, Murray realised that his ordeal was over. He had used ‘every ounce of energy,’ as he put it. There was nothing left.
Only when the pressure fell away did Murray truly know how intense it had been. Sure, the Davis Cup is a team game; but when all hope seems to be resting with one person, it can be lonelier out there than it is in any other tennis match. Everyone depends on you, everyone expects. Sometimes the spirit is willing but the body isn’t.
Murray summoned the very last resources he had in order to please the thousands in west London and the millions watching back home.
Now he can go on holiday and rest his mind and body. How those tears told us that he needs a rest.
But September 18-20 will come round quickly. In the indoor cauldron of Glasgow, perhaps, Murray will carry the hopes of millions once more. It’s what he does. Who knows, maybe he will shoulder that unenviable responsibility all the way to Davis Cup glory. If so it will be a remarkable achievement. That pressure cannot be easy to handle. And that’s why we can expect more tears, even in victory.