Aidan Smith: Is Andy Murray really done with scowling and ice baths?

Our great sporting champion is properly creaking as injuries put his career on hold.
Our great sporting champion is properly creaking as injuries put his career on hold.
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It’s unthinkable that Andy Murray would retire from tennis and not return for more thrilling matches, says Aidan Smith

Two big, daft movies intertwine when I think about big, not-so-daft Andy Murray. One of them is Geordie, the other is Brigadoon. In Geordie a “wee Scottish schoolboy” – as Wikipedia calls the eponymous hero, and there’s a translation of “wee” for the international audience – defies his surroundings and their lack of glistening sporting heritage to transform himself into a highly improbable Olympian.

Two big, daft movies intertwine when I think about big, not-so-daft Andy Murray. One of them is Geordie, the other is Brigadoon. In Geordie a “wee Scottish schoolboy” – as Wikipedia calls the eponymous hero, and there’s a translation of “wee” for the international audience – defies his surroundings and their lack of glistening sporting heritage to transform himself into a highly improbable Olympian.

When Geordie MacTaggart submits to a bodybuilding correspondence course, he could be Murray strapped up to those rubber resistors which make every tiny step similar to a trudge through treacle. When Geordie runs across hills and through glens covered in jaggy thistles to build up his stamina – and maybe there are ankle-nipping haggis as well for the film over-romanticises the landscape – then he could be Murray doing something equally masochistic and plunging into an ice bath.

READ MORE: Andy Murray confirms he has undergone hip surgery

How matter-of-fact ice baths are now! How routine is the sensation for we Scots that a sporting god walks among us! In our house yesterday, the tub hadn’t been emptied from the previous night. Before I lifted the plug, my two young daughters wanted to test the temperature. “Freezing!” squealed one. “This is what Andy Murray does!” added her sister. Well, almost. Murray’s baths are properly cold, I said. “Like a giant slushie?” asked Daughter No1. Exactly – and they cover his whole body, not just one arm. And most likely that body has just hurtled across a tennis court, chasing down Roger Federer’s best shots for four-and-a-half hours.

But for how much longer will Andrew Barron Murray do any of this? Our great champion is properly creaking and we are having to face up to our Brigadoon. Maybe it was all a dream. We awoke one day in recognition of Scotland having produced a world-class tennis player. Of course we sang and danced and donned zazzy tartans because this was something truly fantastical. But that day was always going to come to an end. We would have to remove our crazy kilts and replace them with bedshirts woven out of the coarsest hair. Then we would fall asleep for a hundred years, which in the opinion of the most trusted rent-a-quote pundits is how long it will take Scotland to magic up Andy Murray Mk II.

What will the post-Murray world look and feel like? It’s not here yet. The man may yet beat that dodgy hip and return. But the fact so many of the pieces written about him these past few days read like career obituaries is yet more evidence of the extent to which he made a tennis ball-shaped Earth tilt on its axis. We should snap out of it. Murray would not want this. He would not want to be the subject of this much wallowing and wailing, or have to endure this amount of gloom. This is not Murray’s way. It’s not how he won so many matches and, eventually, three Grand Slams, two Olympics and the Davis Cup. You don’t give up. You fight and you fight. If he can achieve all he has done, and might do yet, emerging out of Dunblane, why couldn’t someone else, hailing from somewhere equally unlikely – equally drookit, equally bobbly and, yes, equally Scottish?

Consider Scottish sporting achievement, and British tennis achievement, before Murray. Yes, Scotland and Scots managed to pull off some notable successes. Bauchly, bandy-legged, shilpit, sunlight-deficient men excelled at football, boxing, horseracing, snooker and darts – and then along came Andy. There was no problem with genetics as far as he was concerned.

Pre-Murray, tennis was a sport played almost exclusively in England’s Home Counties on courts in middle-class gardens, either as the means by which stockbrokers got off with each other’s wives or found nice, polite young men for their daughters to marry, all of whom seemed to be called Jane. At elite level, it was a sport which enabled wits like Clive James to poke fun at ongoing British cock-up in his TV review of the Wimbledon coverage. A particularly exciting match had been “the best since Dan Maskell played Henry VIII”. Britain’s great hopes in whites were always dependable members of the commentary team, invariably being knocked out in the first round.

Oh how we laughed. And oh how we accepted our fate. We were losers, but impeccably-mannered losers, and as on-court behaviour deteriorated, that was deemed vital. Murray’s demeanour challenged the tennis establishment for a while and, during many lunch-parties in my in-laws’ expat community in south-west France where old values were passed round with the Carr’s water biscuits, I stuck up for him. This was how he was, I explained – and how he had to be to overcome, as John McEnroe confirmed, three of the five greatest men of all time. What did it matter if his hair wasn’t plastered down and he’d cracked a joke about supporting Paraguay against England at football? Tennis wasn’t dressage, for goodness sake.

The expats were won round when Murray won Wimbledon. Brits didn’t just love glorious failure; they were actually partial to a spot of triumph. Meanwhile Scots from the generation which grew up with crater-filled public courts beamed with astonishment and pride. His stirring victories are easy to calculate, the inspirational “Andy Murray effect” less so. But it’s definitely a thing and from the children of the craterous generation, junior racquets in hand, to the self-determining politicians, these adherents swear by it. Who’s to say it’s finished? Not Murray, not yet.