Evening Standard comment: A fond farewell to Andy Murray, a tennis great; Question Time’s tough new host; The art feud of 1832

Simon Johnson
Evening Standard

The prospect that the Australian Open may be Andy Murray’s last appearance in world tennis — in an emotional press conference he suggested he may not manage to play at Wimbledon again because of his hip injury — is a sad and premature end to a remarkable career.

Even people who don’t follow tennis admire Murray: a Scottish sportsman in whom we can all take pride.

Many people considered him callow and temperamental in his first major tour, but this young man, still only 31, transformed himself — with the help of his inspirational mother, Judy — into an extraordinary physical specimen capable of beating the best players in this, tennis’s toughest era.

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But it was mental fortitude that lay at the root of Murray’s success. He was a pupil at the Dunblane primary school when the Dunblane gun massacre happened in 1996.

Murray developed what the outside world perceived as a stony-faced demeanour — a carapace which cracked when he lost the 2012 Wimbledon final to Roger Federer.

After a fourth Grand Slam final defeat, his tears flowed and we saw a very different Murray, one to whom people warmed.

With Ivan Lendl as his coach and guide, he became the first Briton to win tennis Olympic gold for 104 years at the London Olympics in 2012.

He ended a national 76-year wait for a men’s Slam success at the US Open later that year. And, the greatest coup of all, Murray ended a 77-year wait for a men’s Wimbledon champion in 2013, a title he would reclaim three years later.

In what is perhaps a golden age for men’s tennis, Murray often out-ran, out-thought and out-worked his opponents, forcing us to expand the Big Three of world tennis — Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — to become the Big Four.

There is no room for error or weakness in such rarefied company and so the longer Murray’s hip injury compromised his movement, the more today’s announcement was inevitable. Fortunately, his brother Jamie is still active as a player.

He has done the sport in Britain many favours: he has been a tireless campaigner for equality in sport, is universally respected by his peers and is the ideal role model for an underperforming Lawn Tennis Association system.

He will bow out with a claim to be one Britain’s finest sportsmen.


Question Time’s tough new host

Last night, Fiona Bruce took over one of the most demanding jobs in broadcasting, succeeding David Dimbleby as chair of Question Time.

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There are extraordinary pressures in taking the place of a well-respected and much-loved broadcaster, but Ms Bruce succeeded remarkably in her first outing in establishing her own distinctive style.

She crisply showed up Emily Thornberry’s evasion of hard questions and the perennial tendency of politicians to evade issues by recourse to waffle.

There were many people suggesting that she might be “softer” in her approach than her predecessor or the notably spiky interviewer Jeremy Paxman; well, that’s not what has happened.

She turns out to be on the side of the viewer in keeping panellists on their toes and holding politicians to account, and that’s good for democracy. We look forward to seeing much more of her.


The art feud of 1832

At the Royal Academy, visitors have the opportunity to revisit, nearly two centuries on, the entertaining and highly fruitful rivalry between two great British painters.

It has displayed paintings by Turner and Constable which featured in the 1832 Royal Academy show.

The story was that Turner was so vexed that his modest seascape picture threatened to be upstaged by a massive canvas by Constable of Waterloo Bridge that he marched in and painted a jaunty red buoy in the waves.

That upset his rival, who observed: “He has been here and fired a gun.”

Certainly, the painting was much improved by the dash of red.

Which goes to show: then as now, art owes a great deal to competition.

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