It isn’t every day men in kilts are inspired to dance on tables in an Irish bar in a Belgian city after a British tennis victory.
But then it isn’t every day Great Britain win the Davis Cup thanks to the extraordinary will and guile of a pair of Scottish brothers. Ghent was a surreal place to be on Sunday night as the rain teemed down and celebrations continued well into the early morning in the Korenmarkt.
You get extremely high praise when things go well and major criticism when things don’t go so wellAndy Murray
The morning-after-the-night-before started surprisingly early for Andy and Jamie Murray and Co. They were at a winners’ press conference yesterday in their city centre hotel at just before 10am. There was only the briefest of hold-ups as Andy finished his breakfast. No one, not even David Lloyd, whose recent criticism of Murray’s commitment to British tennis was dismissed as “background music” by the Scot, could deny him a few mouthfuls of muesli.
In fact, Murray and his team-mates will need all the sustenance they can get if they have any intention of parading a trophy weighing 105kgs on their return to Britain, with Dunblane surely top of the list of places for it to visit.
“I play my best tennis for my country,” Murray opined on Sunday, after winning three points, with some help from brother Jamie, to secure a 3-1 win over Belgium. It meant Britain are now top of the pile at tennis. Murray himself is currently the second best player in the world. Is this what he means when he said on Sunday things might not get any better?
Despite its architectural beauty, Ghent in the rain on a cold Monday morning in November, even if it was St Andrew’s Day, felt like a downbeat setting in which to continue saluting some salad days for British tennis. These are high times, stretching back to 2012, when Murray won his first grand slam title. But what happens in, say, five years’ time, when the Age of the Murrays is over?
Murray and his team-mates wrestled gamely with the question yesterday. They probably did not feel like conducting such an examination. However, they are also aware they have the nation’s attention, something not always guaranteed. This was the time to get their point across, and they did, with Murray bemoaning the under-use of courts at the national tennis centre.
Such bleak pronouncements jarred with the air of celebration, which was still very evident, and rightly so. The five understandably weary looking gentlemen – captain Leon Smith sat with Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund to his right, James Ward and Jamie Murray to his left – have achieved something that will echo in British sporting history.
Smith reported he had just conducted one interview with a radio station, whose listeners were being asked to phone in and reveal where they were when Andy Murray’s backhand lob secured Britain’s first Davis Cup since 1936.
It has qualified as a Where Were You When moment already. Smith was impressed. So had it sunk in yet? And how were the hangovers? Dan Evans, a non-playing team-mate on this occasion, partied hardest, revealed Andy, to complete a shift from superhero to supergrass in the space of a few hours.
“Nuff said,” added Smith, with reference to Evans, who has a reputation for being a bit of a tearaway. Murray is a very different animal, of course. One wonders whether he had even allowed a sip of champagne to pass his lips. The ultra-professional Murray had to postpone his ice-bath until after the trophy presentation on Sunday. It sounded as if even this change to his usual routine had irked him slightly.
But he got into the swing of things on Sunday night. It was clear Murray relished this particular victory because he could celebrate with those closest to him. There was no grand function, no need to don a bow tie and tuxedo, as the winner is required to do at the Champions’ ball at Wimbledon.
“Everyone’s families were here and a bunch of our friends as well, while after some other wins that hasn’t been the case,” he said. “You don’t normally get to see those who are closest to you. When you see them they tell you what it means to them or how proud they are.
“It does then start to sink in a little bit and that is what was really nice about yesterday. Because it was so close to home so many of our families came over and we got to spend last night with them.”
Murray is now wise to how the court of public opinion works. Following his endeavours at the weekend, the needle is twitching in the Very Popular zone, particularly since this victory was earned in a Great Britain shirt.
“Obviously any time you win big competitions [your] popularity rises, but when things don’t go so well the opposite happens,” he said. “I’m aware of that now. When I was younger you can sometimes let that get to you. It’s not always easy to deal with. You get the extremely high praise when things go well and major criticism when things don’t go so well.
“Now I just try and stay a little bit more kind of neutral throughout the year,” he added. “I’m a lot happier for that.”
But he clearly relished playing for Great Britain, feeling the love of an entire country. Whether he is motivated to retain the trophy is another question, particularly in a year when he is due to become a father for the first time. Despite fears that, now the Davis Cup has been ticked off, he would re-focus on other goals, Murray sounded enthusiastic about playing a part in the next few months, and possibly years. Is it a bit like the end of Ocean’s Eleven, when the protagonists all go their separate ways, job done, someone ventured?
There was a sequel, Murray pointed out. And another one after that. “Ocean’s Twelve was pretty good. And Ocean’s Thirteen,” he said.
Smith fielded the question. “It will obviously be hard to replicate what we have done this weekend,” he admitted.
If for whatever reason Murray cannot make the clash with Japan in Birmingham in March – Kim, his wife, is due to give birth a few weeks earlier – Great Britain could be condemned to a World Group relegation play-off match just a matter of months after reaching the pinnacle of world tennis. That is how it works in the somewhat curious world of the Davis Cup.
Smith’s own future remains slightly up in the air. If he receives interest from elsewhere, what should the LTA [Lawn Tennis Association] do? “Just let him go,” teased Ward. He was another non-playing member of the team – which might not be an unconnected detail.
But it is clear there is a special bond between them all. After last night’s celebratory meal at the exclusive Nobu restaurant in London, the next time they are in each other’s company will surely be when they are presented with the team of the year trophy at the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year awards night, which is being held in Belfast on 20 December.
No other team has come close to matching what the Great Britain Davis Cup side has done over the course of this calendar year.
In this respect, the climax in Ghent is almost perfectly timed. Whether, when the celebrations die down, this historic feat is exploited for the benefit of future generations, only time will tell.