I’M ALREADY counting the days to my next summer holiday in south-west France. Every July, we head for the Lot-et-Garonne where my in-laws know a lot of English retirees like themselves.
They throw lunch parties which are always hugely enjoyable until the subject gets round to Andy Murray. Recently I’ve always had to defend the man but, hopefully, that’s all changed.
These are folk who keep up with the news from the BBC via satellite, buy Marmite and Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade from the “British section” of supermarchés and have persisted with the view that Murray doesn’t smile enough, doesn’t brush his hair enough and generally isn’t Tim Henman enough.
Quite a lot of this is historical. Murray doesn’t go radge on court as much as he used to. But, even if he did, now that he’s become the first Brit to win a major since hair was very definitely brushed (and parted with a cleaver and slicked down) – then so what?
The last lunch party of this year’s holiday began as Murray was knocking up against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. He was one match from immortality and yet the old arguments still raged. In between checking the score, I was having to impress upon a woman that, no, Murray wasn’t anti-English and had only said he’d wanted Paraguay to beat England at football after being taunted about Scotland’s World Cup failures by the selfsame Henman. Everyone would have been back at their converted farmhouses in time to see Murray lose graciously and deliver a fine speech.
A few weeks later he’d win Olympic gold, so at a quarter past two last Tuesday morning I was hoping that all of Britain, including the Happy Valley outposts, would have been rooting for him. But tennis really is a funny old game.
Tennis has an expectation of its performers like no other sport, at least among some followers. It’s not enough that a player has good ground shots. He must have good table manners as well. He must be polite and well turned out. He must not lose his temper and abuse his racket or kick badly-constructed wooden surrounds which shatter and cause line judges to jump theatrically. That last one, of course, was Argentina’s David Nalbandian and, amid the horrified reactions of my expat friends, there were dark mutterings about the Falklands.
Honestly, these prim and proper zealots would have you believe that tennis is more like dressage than dressage itself.
This puts even more pressure on a lad like Murray to win at the home of ye olde starched tennis etiquette – Wimbers.
The expectation for a home champion hangs over SW19 like a giant sweaty tarpaulin and you wonder why they bother with rain-covers. You can cut the tension with a knife (please be sure it’s the correct knife). But didn’t the atmosphere change for the Olympics? Same venue, very few frightfully anxious Home Counties debenture-holders. A rock’n’roll crowd much more to his liking.
New York is a rock’n’roll town and Murray loves playing tennis there – loves that two squiffy Scottish knights, Sean Connery and Alex Ferguson, could gatecrash formalities in a way that would never happen at Wimbledon.
And I’ve got cousins from Melbourne staying with me right now who confirm that he’s always been the Australian Open’s kind of guy, even when his image was that of a surly slacker and especially when Wimbers’ disaffection with him was at its height.
At the end of that epic and utterly unforgettable night at Flushing Meadows, it was interesting that, after Sky’s commentary team congratulated Murray on his triumph, he made a point of thanking the broadcaster for its “phenomenal” tennis coverage. I’m sure he has nothing against the BBC. He won’t have anything against Wimbledon and would love to win there but there’s an oppressive stuffiness about both these venerable institutions of which he can’t be over-fond.
Happily, he no longer has to worry about that quite so much, having won a major at last.
In a perverse way I quite enjoyed him irking the tennis establishment and would will him to do even more un-Tim-like things, like belch and fart and allow a few beer cans to spill from his bag. But that’s a very Scottish view and Andy can be everyone’s hero now.
Don’t worry, they’ll be cheering for him in the Lot-et-Garonne next summer as well – I’ll make sure of it.