Even Middle England must admire Murray

John Inverdale
IT’S still going on. The complete refusal of certain parts of Middle England to accept that Andy Murray is a national asset to be cherished and revered. On the 11.27 out of Waterloo on Saturday night, I was approached by a man (sober) who inquired if I was going to the Australian Open. “Yes”, I said. “Well I hope Djokovic wins”, came the reply.

We chatted until he (mercifully) got off at Clapham Junction. He lived near Chobham. He loved tennis. He doesn’t like Murray who is dour and miserable. He had been among the thousands at the O2 who had cheered Federer against our man.

“Most of my friends feel the same” was his parting shot. Do they? Didn’t the lingering “he’s Scottish” antagonism wither and perish with the tears after the Wimbledon final, the magnificence of the Olympic triumph and the brilliance of the US Open victory – our first male Grand Slam title for 76 years lest we forget?

Clearly not in certain quarters, where Tim Henman is still revered in a way that Murray is not. And fantastic player though Tim was, with a place in the world’s top 10 for a decade, he didn’t reach a Grand Slam final, let alone win one.

Murray now has a chance in every single major championship. The man who they said couldn’t last five sets is now one of the fittest on the tour. The man who they said had a fragile temperant now has a winner’s mentality. For British followers of the game over several decades, this is an almost preposterous scenario. A major sport that we have effectively opted out of for 40 years with the exception of Tim and to a lesser extent Greg Rusedski, and now we have a star that some are reluctant to embrace because he doesn’t smile enough, crack enough gags or vary his intonation like Michael McIntyre.

But 2013 is the year that the refuseniks have to wise up. Not in a blind jingoistic way, but in a rational appreciation of a brilliant and rare talent. Do you want a joker or a champion? Be proud of him – there’s nobody else appearing on the horizon, and we will all miss him when he’s gone. Even in Chobham.