Andy Murray taught us Scots to dream big and show emotion

Marianne Taylor
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">‘The skill, grit and courage shown by Murray on court speaks for itself.’</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Professional Sport/Popperfoto/Getty Images</span>
‘The skill, grit and courage shown by Murray on court speaks for itself.’ Photograph: Professional Sport/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Small, wet, overweight countries should not – and usually do not – produce tennis superstars. And although it was a time his many followers in Scotland and beyond had been expecting for a while, the pain and frustration etched on Andy Murray’s face as he announced his retirement from tennis at a tearful press conference in Australia, still came as a shock. The fairytale Federer-style comeback we all wished for was not to be.

The visceral authenticity of the emotion made it difficult to watch. But it said everything you need to know about Murray: still utterly committed to the game he loves, struggling to free himself from the only life he has ever known – even though it is now causing him excruciating pain.

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Two Wimbledon crowns, a US Open, two gold medals, a Davis Cup and world number one in a sport that Scottish people have no history of – many might say no business – being good at; Murray has nothing to prove to anyone. But it’s a bitter pill to swallow that the tennis gods did not see fit to allow him to bow out on a high, at a time of his choosing. I cannot think of another living Scot who elicits in their compatriots such genuine pride. As only those from other small countries can appreciate – the Swiss and the Jamaicans perhaps – possessing a global sports hero somehow makes your whole nation stand a little taller. A tiny smidgeon of the glory and the glamour reflects back on you, and because you’re not used to it, you make sure you savour every moment.

The skill, grit and courage shown by Murray on court speaks for itself, and the buzz of being utterly consumed in the moment of watching him play, willing him to win with every demented fibre of your mind and body, is something many of us will never experience again. Murray’s announcement prompted an outpouring of love and praise from around the world that will, no doubt, give him comfort. Maybe all the more so since such support and admiration were noticeably lacking early in his career. To sections of the English media and many Tim Henman-loving English tennis fans, the young pretender, with his sweary on-court passion and intensity, was uncouth and arrogant; his dry, very Scottish off-court banter simply not cricket.

This early antipathy was also driven by Murray being an outsider in UK tennis terms, having come up outside of the Lawn Tennis Association system. He was coached by his mother, Judy, a force of nature who begged, borrowed and sacrificed to give her son the opportunity to train at the highest level in Spain. The tennis establishment didn’t like the fact that the Murrays had done it on their own terms, though they were only forced to go elsewhere because the infrastructure did not exist to create champions in the UK, never mind a tennis backwater like Scotland. Shockingly, it still doesn’t.

Even back before he had won anything big, the animosity and coldness from down south only made people in Scotland love Murray more.

Eventually, Murray won round many of his detractors. Winning grand slams helped, of course, but one of the other ways he did this was by overturning a major stereotype in Scottish masculinity, the macho fear of showing emotion that still plagues so many men in our country.

Murray taught Scots how to dream big. But he also made the call to be himself in public, to share his hurt and pain as well as his joy – and that takes guts. The shyness and awkwardness of the teenager we first got to know matured, through all the euphoric highs and painful lows, into the endearing, hard-won openness that we recognise in the battle-scarred veteran we saw today, and to whom our hearts reached out.

• Marianne Taylor is a Glasgow-based freelance journalist

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