December 5, 2018
Andy Murray is hoping for a big 2019. Some might say it is a make-or-break year for the battling Brit and his comeback hopes.
He has just confirmed his place at the Australian Open. And any Slam is an acid test for his fitness.
But does Murray really have anything to prove, other than to himself? The British public doesn’t seem to think so.
His place in their hearts is safe forever. His place in British sporting history is already set in stone. A recent poll confirmed as much.
But Andy wants to give his fans more. Can he?
We saw glimpses of the old Murray in 2018. Encouraging reminders of his former power and precision.
But sustaining those levels was a problem. As he tried to put his hip injury behind him once and for all, Andy realised he was going to have to be patient.
There were defeats to Fernando Verdasco at the US Open and in China. Verdasco is a player Murray would have swept aside in his prime. He had enjoyed a 13-1 head-to-head previously.
And remember how Murray had to pull out of one tournament – the Citi Open in Washington – half-way through his campaign because of the crazy schedule? Tearfully, he realised that to continue there was to risk a setback.
The tournament director virtually called him a quitter. Murray recently vowed not to compete there again after being “rinsed” so unfairly.
Now the overall signs are better. Andy is becoming happier by the week with his fitness and mobility.
The Australian Open will provide his biggest physical test for some time. That’s if the unseeded Murray doesn’t meet a top player too early.
If he can negotiate the first few rounds and find a rhythm, then anything can happen.
Murray must take a leaf out of Roger Federer’s book from two years ago.
For Federer, after six months out, the Australian Open was an adventure. Something to enjoy. A bonus. Nothing more.
With that carefree attitude, he went out and won it. Federer then embarked on an extraordinary journey. It took him all the way back to world number one for a while.
He did it by putting no pressure on himself whatsoever. And Murray needs to summon that same nothing-to-lose spirit if he is to have any chance of success.
Interestingly, the British public has given Andy every reason to adopt this pressure-free mindset.
He was recently voted second greatest star on the all-time list of BBC Sports Personallity of the Year winners.
The only man who beat him was the late Bobby Moore. The legendary defender captained England to their only soccer World Cup triumph back in 1966.
That makes Murray the most loved British sports star alive. And he is still trying to improve on his record.
Winning Wimbledon for the first time in 2013 was massive for his status as a national treasure.
Fittingly, one of Bobby Moore’s team mates from ’66 was there to cheer Andy on during his semi-final victory over Jerzy Janowicz in 2013.
Sir Bobby Charlton loves watching Murray. He is a Wimbledon regular. You could sense his excitement as he tipped the Scot to beat Djokovic in the final. Many doubted it would happen. But it did.
Sir Bobby Charlton knew this win was going to be almost as big for British sport as winning the World Cup. Then Murray went out and did it again three years later. Not even the great Moore and Charlton could do that for English football.
Murray had built up quite a trophy haul before that hip injury derailed him. A US Open title, Olympic golds, a Davis Cup. The British public lapped it all up and took him to their hearts.
They had watched him cry and seek forgiveness when he had lost the 2012 Wimbledon final to Federer.
They knew how much he wanted to win a home title for them. So when he finally did, the delight was even more intense.
Sure, Andy Murray should have won more Slams. Sure, he should have won the Australian Open at least once by now. But the fans wouldn’t swap those Wimbledon titles for any number of others.
They love their champion. But they love Murray the man too. Not just for his vulnerability. But also for his fundamental decency.
Andy always stands up for women and equality. Recently he condemned sexism in international sport. He said the level of the problem was still ‘unreal.’ People applauded him for speaking out.
So it is not just his achievements that have endeared Andy Murray to the fans. It really is his personallity too.
How can Andy use that widespread love and affection now? He can listen to the message he is being sent.
The fans are telling him that he has already done enough for them. More than enough. Anything else is a bonus.
Murray has nothing to prove. He can go out and enjoy himself in the New Year. See what happens.
Maybe he’ll be able to do a Federer. Maybe he won’t. But Andy Murray should have every reason to prepare for 2019 pressure-free.
British sports fans are always going to love him now. Whatever drama unfolds from here.
And he will receive a hero’s welcome at Wimbledon 2019. That is guaranteed.