Image management is a tricky business, as Sir Andy Murray’s media wranglers must know.
For much of his early career, as Murray established himself as one of the greatest of British athletes, he was appreciated with reluctance by some tennis fans. Murray’s mistake was his relentless pursuit of excellence. He was also Scottish, which is never a good idea. And he wasn’t Tim Henman: in the statutes of Middle England, there is no bigger crime.
Before Murray, British tennis was about sour strawberries and dying on Henman Hill, a doomed enterprise which celebrated pluck, bad luck and coming close. For Murray, nearly wasn’t nearly enough.
Everybody loves Murray now, of course. Even his most reluctant supporters have grown to appreciate his mercurial nature. A dispassionate astronomer might wonder how it is possible to be both mercurial and saturnine, but Murray’s orbit is predictable in its unpredictability. His victories and his defeats have often arrived by the same route — great tempests of toil and trouble in which the player’s body seemed to be arguing with itself. And, we now understand, it was.
Murray had hip surgery in 2018. There is a pun in the title of Olivia Cappuccini’s fine documentary: it refers both to Murray’s re-emergence from injury, and to the final procedure he undertook to rescue his career. Viewers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away during the operation scenes. Suffice to say, a saw and a hammer are involved.
We may speculate about the film Cappuccini thought she was making. Fragments of a conventional sporting biopic remain. There are supportive quotes from Murray’s rivals, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, and encouraging references from former coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Ivan Lendl. Those bits feel like salutes culled from a sporting obituary.
If that was the plan, no one told Murray. What happens instead is a portrait of a sportsman whose stubborn refusal to submit is Olympian.
It’s not that he doesn’t understand defeat. He is familiar with the concept, entertains it, occasionally lets it win a fourth set tie-break against his deflated self-esteem. Then he gets back up, even when resuming the fight means learning how to walk again.
There are false starts. Murray’s June 2018 comeback is met with apprehension and expectation, concepts which are alien to sports psychologists. In August 2018, he weeps into his towel. He records a video diary in which he appears to surrender. “I feel like this is the end for me,” he says. “My body just doesn’t want to do it again.”
That video diary isn’t the most revealing one. In December 2018, still on the point of quitting, he delivers a moving testimony which includes the Dunblane massacre (“we knew the guy … he’d been in our car”), his parents’ divorce and his brother moving away from home. He talks about anxiety, and having trouble breathing. “We don’t talk about those things,” he says, noting that tennis is an escape from things that are bottled up.
For Andy Murray, actions speak louder. The trick is to keep playing.
Andy Murray: Resurfacing is on Amazon Prime.