Monday, 31 January 2011

The Backlash Begins: Why Are The Knives Out For Andy Murray?

Andy Murray has lost his third Grand Slam final. The dust has barely begun to settle and the predictable criticisms have started to emerge from whatever dark cavern they were hiding in during Andy's progression to the final.

For the past two weeks the interest in The Australian Open Tennis Championships has slowly built amongst the British Media and online forums, as people who don't normally show much interest in Tennis, outside of a couple of weeks in July, suddenly realised there was the possibility of a first British winner in the Open era. A lot of those same people appear to be more than willing to stick the boot in now that those hopes have been dashed.

It is a well established fact that the British press like to build up sporting heroes, and then take a great deal of pleasure in knocking them down again. However, some of the more vitriolic criticisms - the Scotsman newspaper's mean-spirited article apart - is appearing on online forums from so called fans. Have the British public really become so dumbed down that they now show the same blind, sheep-like qualities when reading sports headlines that they do when reading sensationalist, scaremonger headlines in other sections of the press? Is Britain turning into a giant version of the Daily Mail? If so, it may be time to dig out the passport.

The usual media pastime of knocking sporting stars always seems to be carried out with increased fervour when it is directed towards British tennis players. I don't know what it is about tennis that attracts this reaction. Perhaps it stems from an embarrassment that a country that hosts arguably the leading tennis tournament has been unable to produce an individual good enough to win it for so many years. Perhaps it is a perception that tennis is normally played by the privileged in this country, and knocking the privileged adds spice to any journalistic piece. Or perhaps it is just that we got so used to supporting the plucky loser in tennis that in a twisted mentality we rationalise turning successful players into losers in order to feel that we can continue to support them. Whatever the reason, our tennis players have not had the easiest ride in the press in recent years.

It is not as if tennis is the only sport in which we produce individuals who almost make it to the very top. However, some other examples of these nearly men have maintained a level of respect that is not as willingly given to the likes of Andy Murray or Tim Henman. Stirling Moss never managed to win the World driver's championship, yet he is rightly still treated with great respect and loved by the press. Jimmy White famously lost all six of the World Snooker Championship finals he contested, yet Jimmy is seen as the people's champion, adored to this day. The best example of a non-world champion taken to the nation's heart is probably that of Frank 'know what I mean Harry' Bruno. The pantomime boxer failed in his first three attempts at gaining world champion status before he finally managed to climb that final step to world champion. Ironically, Frank's popularity was probably at its height before he became world champion. So why is this not true of Tim Henman and Andy Murray?

My own, very much uninformed, opinion is that those other sports have had alternative stars to look to for glory. They were not representing British hopes for glory on the same level as falls upon our tennis stars. Motor racing has had a rich history of British winners. Boxing has always been a sport full of British heroes, even if the heavyweight division did suffer a lean spell before Bruno. And as for snooker, well it was virtually a British monopoly until recent times. This theory can be backed up by the fact that Greg Rusedski never came in for the same level of stick as Tim or Andy. That could well be because we were never really sure how British he really was. Its is not about the players. Its all about British tennis.

This is an incredibly unfair and unrealistic approach to take. Tennis is an individual sport. It is not the fault of current, or recent, players that they have been left alone to represent their country's hopes. When they step onto the tennis court they do so in their own pursuit of excellence and glory. To add to that the hopes of a nation's sporting welfare serves only to add a pressure that will hinder any possible success. We should back them for what they are - talented individuals.

To put their achievements into perspective, Tim Henman gained a career high ranking of world number four. He was the fourth best player in the world. Andy has been as high as number two and currently ranks (prior to Australia) as the fifth best player in the world. I do not think I am even the fifth best at anything in my street! Are you?

When Andy took to the court on Sunday he was facing arguably the best player in the world on current form. Novak Djokovic was immense, as he had been throughout the tournament. Some of Andy's play did not look as good as it had in previous rounds. However, you cannot quantify how much of this was down to Novak's play as Andy was forced to play more and more aggressively as he sought to match the Serbian's game. On the day he was not as good as Novak Djokovic.

In other sports we don't knock people for not being the best in the world. We recognise them for the skill that they have. When Ryan Giggs runs down the wing we admire his wizardry. We do not say "yeah, but he's no Lionel Messi." When Andrew Strauss scores a century we don't criticise him for not having the averages of Sachin Tendulkar.

Andy Murray is not the best player in the world. However, in time he might be. Even if his peak turns out to be fifth best player in the world, and he manages to have made it to three grand slam finals, take yourself back in time twenty years and think how much we would have given to have had a tennis player that good. So well done on a very god tournament Andy. You are an incredible talent. I, for one, salute you for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

© Copyright

All posts on this blog are the property of Its Not Life Or Death. Anyone wishing to reproduce the posts or articles should first seek permission and must accredit all work to Its Not Life Or Death.