If someone told you last year that Andy Murray would be on the roster for the Queen’s Club Championships in 2019, you probably wouldn’t believe them. Perhaps, Murray may not have either.
Great Britain were the hosts of tennis’ oldest championship, and its most prestigious. But its champions, perhaps, were stuck in that time, too — until Murray came along. Briton when he won, Scot when he lost, Murray heralded a return for Great Britain’s “golden age” of tennis, over a career one can only describe as incredibly gritty.
The past two years have been somewhat of a battle for the former World No 1, who has long struggled with hip injuries and had been in and out of targeted therapy for them. What may not have been clear is the extent of his injury: at his lowest, Murray said last year that even daily tasks like “tying (my) shoes, walking the dogs,” were difficult.
This year ahead of the Australian Open, a tearful Murray had strongly indicated that he might be playing the last match of his professional tennis career. Even in his first-round loss to the experienced Roberto Bautista-Agut, Murray was a fighter. Every single ounce of coverage on the ace was on his heroics — on the fact that he was a winner, a fighter. Then, only a few months ago, everyone — most of all his colleagues, had believed Murray had played the final match of his career and recorded messages of praise for the Scot. It was almost as if everyone — Murray himself included, had all but drawn the curtains.
But here we are, with Murray on the list of participants at Queen’s, now known as the Fever-Tree Championships. It seems only fitting that Murray marks his return from a near-retirement here; one of the oldest tournaments in the history of the sport. Queen’s is also the immediate precursor to Wimbledon, the crowning glory of tennis tournaments, if you’ll pardon the pun. And of course, no singles player in tennis history has been quite as successful as Murray here — he has won five titles there, more than Boris Becker, John McEnroe, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and the great Roy Emerson.
The first of Murray’s wins here came in 2009, less than a year after he made his Grand Slam final debut. Murray has beaten quite the variety of players at Queen’s too, from James Blake, to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to most recently in 2016, Milos Raonic.
No specialist, nor a proverbial ‘servebot’ — the kind that would do well on grass courts — has fazed Murray. But really, few things have. And for Murray, he has done so much more for tennis, and specifically for Great Britain, than just win titles.
The 31-year-old had long been building towards something bigger, and he did. Perhaps his successes from even 2007 had given British fans something to cheer for anew. Of course, they had had Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman in the years before, and Jo Durie before them, but this was different.
After several Grand Slam finals, including three at the Australian Open before it, 2012 was Britain’s — and Murray’s — best year in tennis in decades. Perhaps in eras. That year, with London hosting the Olympic Games, it was Murray who dropped one single set — one! — en route to his gold medal. There, he exacted revenge against Roger Federer, who had denied him a first Wimbledon title on the same court only weeks earlier — and with his win, took Great Britain’s first Olympic gold in lawn tennis in over a century. And almost instantly, he went from tennis’ British mascot to its most prominent flagbearer. Murray’s 2012 US Open final defeat of Novak Djokovic had given Britons their first ever Grand Slam title since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977, 35 years earlier.
His consistent final appearances besides his much-wanted Wimbledon title was almost, in a way, returning England’s lost tennis glory — all by a torchbearer who had never really taken on that duty in the first place and had, to borrow a turn of phrase from Shakespeare, had it thrust upon him.
Under the pressure of injuries that had already begun to take their toll as early as 2012, and under the added pressure of every British tennis hope upon him, Murray not only won Wimbledon the following year, but would be instrumental in bringing home even more trophies for a country that had seen a sharp decline. Bringing home the Davis Cup for the first time in 78 years in 2015, after the team had had declining fortunes for decades earlier, Murray went 11-0 — with eight singles and three doubles wins in his matches, to ensure the title coming home.
2016 was unforgettable for any tennis fan who supports the underdog. Murray may not necessarily be what you’d call an underdog, but with his injuries (and indeed, against the power of Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, anyone playing against them really is the proverbial underdog), he may have been. His mercurial climb up the rankings came in an era that saw them at their fittest, most powerful, most unassailable — Murray was even then able to dominate the tennis scene in his own way.
With a second Olympic gold in 2016, the same year he also won his second Wimbledon title, Murray cemented his name in all-time tennis history for certain after becoming, for however short a time, the world’s top-ranked tennis player — something the United Kingdom had not seen in a very long time.
Statistically, Fred Perry — whose records Murray has broken — is considered to this day the greatest British tennis player to have lived. But eras change — and indeed, Murray’s glories have come during what can only be described as tennis’ Golden Era, with one of the most difficult playing fields and greater champions than the sport has ever seen.
Whether it was overcoming Djokovic on his pet surfaces — hard courts and clay, or Federer on grass, Murray has never backed down from any sort of fight. In perhaps the biggest fight of them all — against his own injuries, the Scot has been no different.
A hero on the court and one off it, Murray has championed, in the past few years, women’s rights, equal pay, and been instrumental in using his voice for a good that extends far beyond the 78 feet x 27 feet of the court. Who can ever forget his, “I think Venus and Serena have about four medals each” remark to John Inverdale in 2016?
It is only perhaps appropriate that he is now back, with what his doctor has described with a “90 percent chance of return”, at the exact venue where he has been the most successful, at the home to which he almost single-handedly restored tennis glory.
It may be 2019, but come the Fever-Tree Championship, we will see at least one knight in search of his Holy Grail as the Queen watches on.
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Updated Date: Apr 28, 2019 00:04:13 IST