Moira Gordon: Fred Perry is history now Andy Murray is a winner
IN THE book The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry, there is a photo of the 1936 US Open final. The Forest Hills grass courts are lined up alongside each other and darting across the turf are two gentlemen dressed in perfectly pressed shirts, long white trousers and plimsolls.
Perry beat Don Budge that day in front of 20,000 spectators and the quaintness of the image illustrates perfectly the 76- year gap between that triumph and the emergence of another British male singles grand slam tennis champion.
That was the last of Perry’s eight titles before he turned his back on the then amateur tour to go professional. It was a collection that included all four majors, but it was the US Open that book-ended his career and was a tournament which remained special to him.
Perry’s first slam victory came in the United States in 1933. Seventy-nine years later, to the day, Andy Murray emulated that feat. It is not the only parallel to be drawn between the two British tennis heroes.
Like Murray, Perry was neither poor nor particularly privileged. He certainly did not have the financial wherewithal or social credentials associated with the game of tennis, but both did have talent and a driven mentality. Perry did not conform to the stereotype of a British tennis player. Neither does Murray.
There was a time when that mattered, a time when it mattered a lot to some; but now, having finally delivered a men’s grand slam title, which had proved so elusive to those who did “fit”, Murray can one day look forward to the statues and the accolades eventually bestowed on Perry. They may not have been born into the landed gentry, with a silver spoon in the mouth, but they earned both silverware and titles.
Arguably, though, both gained acceptance across the Atlantic before they were fully adopted at home. While the single-minded winning mentality and unwillingness to meekly toe the line was considered awfully crass by some, and so very untypically British, both needed that to bring success to these shores. That is perhaps why the US has been such an integral part in both men’s careers and lives. There they don’t mind flagrant displays of ambition, there they don’t mind people speaking their mind. It is Miami where Murray escapes when he wants to work and rest. It is there he has sacrificed normal family Christmases to lay the physical foundations for new seasons, and the slog and the hard work put in over those winter weeks are what gave him the legs to see out the five sets of intensely brutal and challenging tennis against Novak Djokovic. Few can stay with Nole over five hours; Murray did.
America is also where Murray likes to escape the glare of the media and the intrusion into his down-time. That is where he switches off, enjoying watersports, swimming with dolphins and then watching the Dolphins. He loves the razzamatazz and energy of US sporting occasions. Unlike Perry he doesn’t dive headlong into the social scene. Perry was seen as a glamour figure, a handsome and well-groomed gent who loved to embrace the fame as much as the fortune his switch to the professional ranks ultimately brought him.
Compared with the out-going Perry, Murray is far more reclusive. He has a tight-knit group of family and friends, and it’s among them he opens up, shares a laugh and relaxes. The protective façade, which is perceived as gloomy and dour, is there to protect him. It is not the real him. But the real him is shy and fiercely private, and besides winning, all he really wants is the quiet life.
While Perry entertained himself away from the courts with models and actresses, and the lifestyle that accommodates such public figures, Murray prefers a quiet night in with his long-term sweetheart Kim Sears, at home, on the sofa, with their dogs.
Perry socialised and mixed with the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, but while Murray’s cast of famous fans is growing fast, famous fans, such as Sir Sean Connery, Will Ferrell, Sir Alex Ferguson and Kevin Spacey are simply window-dressing on tournament day.
For him it is the tennis and the titles that matter. In that regard too, the US has been a hugely significant part of his career. He won the prestigious Orange Bowl tournament in Florida as a kid, in 1999, and on the Flushing Meadows hard courts he further heralded his precocious talent, winning the US Open Juniors title five years later. But while Perry eventually left the UK, taking out US citizenship when war broke out in Europe, Murray remains a proud Scotsman and Brit, as he proves every time he represents GB at Davis Cup or during this summer’s Olympics.
He knows exactly what his US Open triumph means to the country. Until 2010 he wore the Fred Perry apparel and until this weekend he shouldered the burden of trying to match his achievements. Now that job is done, and Murray can focus on himself. Matching the haul of eight titles may be too big an ask, but Murray will give his all. He has been born into a golden era for men’s tennis, though. While Perry had weaknesses, most notably his backhand, there is no shot Murray can’t play. He has weaknesses and many thought most of them were mental and history, and his own expectations weighed heavy on him. Now that he has joined the elite group of Olympic gold medallists and grand slam winners, that has eased.
“I never got the chance to meet him,” Murray said of the man who died in 1995 and whose shadow he has been living in throughout his quest for grand slam glory, “but it would have been nice to have spoken to someone from Britain that had won major tournaments before. That definitely would have helped me. I’m sure he is smiling down from up there that someone has finally managed to do it from Britain and I just hope I can see another British player in my lifetime win a grand slam.”
That photo of Fred Perry claiming his final slam title in an epic five-setter against Budge, 76 years before Murray overcame Djokovic in his own mammoth match, served as a graphic reminder of how long it had been since a British male had succeeded. It was a scene from a bygone era, a glimpse of the past. But now that the country finally has a new winner it can be consigned to the history books where it belongs.
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