Armchair Pundit

Heroes of 2012: Andy Murray

Alex Chick

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We begin our series looking at the year's greatest sporting heroes with a profile of US Open and Olympic champion Andy Murray, making the case for him to win BBC Sports Personality.

For as long as I can remember, Britain has been hopeless at tennis.

One of my first sporting memories is Boris Becker winning Wimbledon in 1985.

That year, seven of the eight British men went out in the first round - the exception, John Lloyd, lost to Henri Leconte in the third round.

Throughout my formative years there was no point complaining about Lloyd or Jeremy Bates or Andrew Castle, because they were the best we had. The cream of a dismal crop.

(I focus on the men, but the same could be said of our top ladies, as Annabel Croft and Sam Smith battled heroically against insurmountable odds.)

British tennis failure was written into our genes.

That's what made Greg Rusedski exciting - if the tennis gods still considered him Canadian, who knew what was possible?

Even when Rusedski and the hugely underrated Tim Henman raised the level, success remained tantalisingly out of reach.

Henman reached six Grand Slam semi-finals but, perhaps unfairly, I never truly believed he would prevail.

That's why Andy Murray gets my vote for 2012 Sports Personality. He didn't just win the US Open, scoop an Olympic gold and go toe-to-toe with three of the greatest players ever.

With that Flushing Meadows triumph, he achieved the impossible.

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Murray certainly did not rise against the backdrop of a greatly improved British tennis infrastructure.

Guided by his mother Judy, he escaped to Spain and honed his craft as a teenager on the clay courts of Barcelona.

His achievements are not part of some national tennis awakening - he has done it on his own.

That's one reason he is more deserving than the hot favourite Bradley Wiggins.

Wiggins helped establish cycling as a mainstream sport in this country - with Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Mark Cavendish, Dave Brailsford and countless others.

Like his Tour de France victory, this was very much a collective endeavour.

Wiggins benefitted from the best team at the Tour - one focused on putting their leader in yellow and keeping him there.

Team Sky all but ignored the challenge of propelling Mark Cavendish to sprint victories (the Manx Missile won three stages anyway) and made Chris Froome sacrifice individual glory to ensure Wiggins's safe passage.

Froome suggested that had he been the lead rider, he would have won the race - many agreed with him.

That's cycling, a team sport - and it would make no more sense to castigate Wiggins for relying on his team than to criticise Lionel Messi for converting someone else's cross.

But isn't Murray's lone toil even more admirable?

Wiggins helped put cycling on the map. Tennis was already on the map before Murray, and we were terrible. And despite all the obstacles, he became a Grand Slam and Olympic champion anyway.

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On a more subjective level, I vote Murray ahead of Wiggins for purely emotional reasons - not the worst yardstick for an award with no established voting criteria.

We watch sport because it makes us feel emotion. And nothing made me feel more emotion - nerves, tension and anguish, mainly - than Murray's finals at Wimbledon and the US Open (his Olympic triumph came in such a gloriously demented moment of British success that it seemed not only possible but probable).

Given the historical context, the idea of a British Grand Slam winner seemed so fanciful that you wondered if you would ever see it happen.

I don't believe in fate, but as Murray lost four finals you couldn't help but wonder if it just wasn't meant to be.

His five-hour victory over Novak Djokovic was a moment of British sporting history to put alongside England's 2005 Ashes victory, the 2003 Rugby World Cup or Linford Christie's gold in 1992.

In the thrilling instant of success, you genuinely don't care what happens next. History has been made and if you never win anything again it won't matter.

Some might put Wiggins's Tour de France triumph in the same category. I wouldn't.

I never yearned for a British Tour de France winner. I knew it had never happened, and it was a great achievement when it did. But this was something to be admired rather than experienced.

It was also largely without drama. The mountain stages produced few surprises - exactly as Team Sky planned it - and Wiggins won it on the time trials.

The race was meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. Hugely impressive. But exciting? Not really.

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So why won't Murray win Sports Personality?

Numbers, for one.

16.9 million saw him lose the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer; a peak of 1.5 million watched the US Open final on Sky.

Only half a million were still awake when he finally won at 2.15am on a Tuesday morning.

For those of us lucky enough to have been watching, it makes it all the more special. But if it's a public vote you're trying to win, you need more than a small band of loyal late-night viewers.

Similarly, Murray's Olympic gold has also become something of an afterthought.

While Wiggins's gold came early on when we were desperate for success, Murray's was the day after Super Saturday, and had to compete for air time with Ben Ainslie and the 100m final.

Hours after his singles success, he came this close to winning a second gold with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles.

At the time, their defeat to Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi in a champions' tie-break didn't seem to matter all that much - after all, we were drowning in gold medals.

But two on the same day? Now that would have got people's attention.

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In many ways, Murray's continued flight under the radar fits with his personality - that word whose inclusion in the BBC award's name continues to vex.

Wasn't it better that his big moment took place away from the braying, two-weeks-a-year tennis circus that surrounds Wimbledon?

He is brisk, businesslike and uncomfortable in the limelight. His tears at Wimbledon were uncharacteristic - his simple relief at Flushing Meadow much more Murray-esque.

After enjoying the greatest victory of his career he went out in New York, and as his friends, family and coaches downed some well-earned champagne and cocktails, he consumed a single lemonade.

Conversely, Wiggins marked his Olympic gold by getting - in his own words - 'blind drunk' at St Paul's Cathedral.

With his public boozing and his mod sideburns, Wiggins seems like a fun guy. Murray does not. Mo Farah has an inspirational story of triumph over adversity and a catchy signature move (the Mobot). Murray has neither. Jessica Ennis mixes beauty with athletic excellence. Murray, not so much.

He has already said the BBC should not bother giving the award this year, and will miss the ceremony to prepare for the Australian Open.

He won't win, and he won't care. But I'll be voting for him anyway.

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Alex Chick - @alexchick81

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