By Ania Gricuk, BA Chinese and History
In the life of every tennis enthusiast there comes a moment when you witness the beginning of the career of a burgeoning new player. It seems you have been with them all the way; from the start of their journey to stardom, through the ups and downs of the rocky road that is the ATP tour, their major, career-defining titles and of course, the holy grail of every tennis player’s life, the Grand Slam title. When the player you’ve been cheering for finally hoists the US Open trophy or gives that tear-jerking victory speech after winning the final of Wimbledon, it seems like you are partaking in the glory of the demigod you have been looking up to for so long. Once they maintain a position at the top of the ATP tour ranking, in your mind they are unstoppable. And as the years go by, you start to forget that the gruelling, unforgiving pursuit that is the career of a professional athlete is, in fact, a tough, mental and physical challenge. When the time comes for them to announce their retirement, it seems like an end of an era, not only in the world of tennis but in your life as a tennis fan as well. And most importantly, you realise the hero that you have admired since you first picked up a racket, is just as human as the rest of us.
For many young tennis fans, especially those who grew up in the United Kingdom, their adventure with the racket sport was connected with Andy Murray in the way described above. The announcement of the Scot’s retirement this year reminded all of us that the player we grew up idolising has truly given his everything to the sport he loves. In the past decade, it was impossible to ignore any figure, who could challenge the reign of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. The young Scottish player reached his first grand slam final at the US open in 2008. Four years later, the whole world was uttering his name as he won Olympic gold for Britain and later the US Open, becoming the first British player since 1977, and the first British man since 1936, to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. A year later, Andy warmed the hearts of millions waving the Union Jack by becoming the first British male in 77 years to win the crowning jewel of every UK-based tennis fan, Wimbledon Championship. Not wanting to keep his homeland waiting another 77 years, Murray brought the nation to shed tears of joy once more by winning Wimbledon in 2016. He was crowned the winner of the ATP finals the same year.
Apart from his incredible successes on the tour and awakening patriotic sentiments on the British Isles, Andy is credited for his distinctive defensive style of playing, tactical abilities and awe-inspiring determination. One of his biggest strengths as a player was his fierceness that manifested itself in the long, tough rallies he frequently engaged in. His trademark ‘never give up’ mentality was essential in his clearly defensive style of play. But Andy is known for being more than just a gritty defender. He can read the game really well, which allowed him to play long rallies against top players despite not having a very strong forehand. His ability to anticipate other players’ shots and tactically employ volleys and drop shots inspired all of us to focus more on improving match tactics.
Murray’s characteristic defensive style brought him many moments of glory, but it was also one of the reasons he began suffering from a painful hip injury so early in his career. Although the details of the source of the pain are mainly unknown to the public, we have witnessed the former World Number 1 battle the injury for many years. In 2017, Murray had to withdraw from Wimbledon because of excruciating pain. He underwent surgery on his hip in January last year and is planning to try another procedure, which although is hoped to alleviate the pain, will not be able to save his career.
On 10 January 2019, after what must have been a tremendously difficult time, the Scot announced that he is planning to retire. It is still uncertain whether Murray will play in this year’s Wimbledon, but the former champion of the grass court exclaimed he would love to make the British Grand Slam his last tournament. If he is unable to continue playing until the summer, his match against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round of the Australian Open could be his last performance in a Grand Slam. Although it ended in Murray’s defeat, it was a five-set battle that reflected what he is know for best—being a fierce, defensive player who gives his everything until the very last shot.
From all of us at SOAS Tennis, thank you and farewell, Andy!