Muzza and Monty have lived curiously similar lives in separate sports. Andy Murray's semi-final against the strapping Jo-Wilfried Tsonga today at Wimbledon is akin to the moment his fellow Scot Colin Montgomerie stood in the middle of a fairway on the 72nd hole of the 2006 US Open golf championship clutching a six iron and the lead. Murray knows what needs to be done. He knows what lies between him and home. He knows he is fit and able to complete the assignment. He knows it, we all know it.
Most pertinently, Murray knows he is capable of usurping Tsonga, a Frenchman he has brought to heel in five of their six meetings. There is nothing to stop Murray reaching his fourth Grand Slam final apart from himself. He would become the first British player to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938. Yet the margin between winning and losing is as troublesome as the space between one's ears. In the undulating world of sport, being so close remains a form of mental torture.
Montgomerie once walloped a perfect drive down the 18th fairway on the final day of the US Open at Winged Foot in New York. He held the lead by a stroke, studied the yardage on the closing par four and was armed with the six iron. He then opted to change clubs from a six to a seven figuring the adrenaline of the moment would hold sway. It didn't. Monty's hesitation felled his finish as he emptied his second shot short into some wretched rough. He required another four blows to get down in six. He lost the tournament by one bloody stroke to Geoff Ogilvy, an unsuspecting Aussie traipsing up the 18th in the group behind.
Tennis and golf are natural bedfellows in that there remains time to reflect upon what has gone before every few minutes. Murray unearthed a fearsome riposte against David Ferrer in their quarter-final having been left distressed by his opponent's ability to seemingly retrieve every ball that was sent spitting off the Murray racquet for almost two sets. Murray somehow recovered his gait in the face of Ferrer's relentless swatting of the ball to win in four sets. It was arguably his sturdiest performance in a Grand Slam. Certainly the swashbuckling counter-puncher's most mature matter on grass.
Younger British tennis enthusiasts have been spoilt for choice over the past 15 years or so in that they have at least had viable candidates to wave their Union Jacks at. British male tennis players used to be a bit of a novelty act, very much a touch of farce. John Lloyd never went beyond the third round at Wimbledn while Andrew Castle, British number one but a million miles off number one, memorably lost to Mats Wilander in five sets in the second round in 1987. Jeremy Bates teetered on the brink of a place in the last eight in 1992 holding match point despite having a second serve that would struggle to cut through wet toilet roll. Infuriatingly, Bates came up short against Guy Forget.
'Tiger' Tim Henman and the bounding British bloke from Canada Greg Rusedski flirted with the notion of becoming national sporting heroes. Henman galloped to the last four four times, Rusedski lost to Pat Rafter in the US Open final in 1997. But they were both short of the assets which Murray contain. And yet there is a nagging worry that Murray may conclude without the Grand Slam that his formative years suggested when he clasped the Junior US Open some eight years ago.
In his private moments, Murray must occasionally stop to consider that the three men above him are three of the greatest players to play tennis. And two of them are, to within a year, the same age as him. They have 28 of the past 29 Grand Slams carved up between the trio. There may soon be room at the inn for Murray. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer contest the other semi-final and Tsonga is no Rafael Nadal, the figure who scalped Muzza over the past two years. Time is of the essence.
Monty entered his dotage as a golfer when he accepted the role of Europe's Ryder Cup captain in 2009. Unless he can run back into form in his 50s, Montgomerie, now 49, appears likely to sign for a card without a Major despite being a fabulous golfer. Monty finished third at the US Open in 1992 (behind Tom Kite), lost play-offs at the 1994 US Open (Ernie Els) and the US PGA Championship in 1995 (Steve Elkington) and wound up second at the 1997 US Open (Els). He was second behind Tiger Woods at the 2005 Open before his wings were clipped at Winged Foot.
At the age of 25, Murray is in his prime, but the good times do not roll forever when one studies 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt and three-times finalist Andy Roddick at Wimbers this year. Murray realistically may only have three or four more years to collect the real goodies.
"When I finish my career, if I haven't won a Slam, maybe it will annoy me," Murray has said. "Or maybe my achievements will be seen as being even better because I've played against some of the greatest of all time."
Murray is not embraced by certain people, especially in England where there in exists, in some quarters at least, a somewhat jaundiced view of him. A Scotsman lifting such a symbol of British sporting pride would have been deemed farcical pre-2005, but this is the juncture we have reached. Wimbledon is a tournament that no British player has won since Fred Perry pranced around in slacks in 1936.
Since his flippant remark during the 2006 football World Cup finals when he jokingly said he'd support "whoever England were playing", some Little Englanders have treated Murray with suspicion. Like Monty, he is viewed as a stereotypically grumpy, discontented and dour Scotsman, a pampered figure who seems to fraternise with chirpiness only when he is winning.
The charm which naturally adorns the gilded shoulders of Federer sits more awkwardly on Murray's apparent chip, but he is certainly adept at reciprocating the crowd's emotion. British when he wins, Scottish when he falters.
At a time when a Scottish independence referendum is in the works for 2014, what better time for the 'no' campaign to celebrate a Scottish winner of British sport's biggest lost cause. It would be a momentous day if the Scotsman wins in Jubilee year, a marketing man's dream in London's Olympic year. The ubiquitous strawberries and cream would taste so sweet.
Like Montgomerie's somewhat fated road map in Major golf, Murray remains in danger of going down as one of the greatest never to win a Grand Slam, but his time has not gone. His time is right here, right now. Monty never quite got there. Murray can.
Like Monty standing on the 72nd hole of the 2006 US Open, it is all there in front of him. In every sense. No pressure, mind.
- Sports & Recreation