There had been a simmering debate for a while but the minute Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic to wrap up an amazing 2016 as the World No 1, even his main rival to the title of Scotland’s Greatest Ever Sportsperson cast his vote in Murray’s favour.
“He has worked so hard to get to this point, and in such a competitive era as well,” said his fellow sporting knight, Sir Chris Hoy. “To have huge names, legends of the sport, in the same era as him, it is quite incredible. No disrespect to any current or past sportsman or woman in Scotland, I think he is the greatest. I am a massive fan of a number of other athletes and the achievements of various sportsmen and women but I think to have done what he has done in such a competitive era, in such a high profile sport, I think he is our greatest ever sportsperson.”
The chance to add to his two Wimbledon triumphs, one US Open title, two Olympic golds, ATP World Tour finals victory, a Davis Cup win and the opportunity to battle to sustain his place at the top was denied him by injury and yesterday came the day his fans, his friends, his rivals and, most of all, Murray himself had been dreading. The announcement that the end is nigh.
There will be no more grand slam finals, no more grand slam trophies, there may not be any competitive tennis beyond next week’s Australian Open first-round match against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut if he proves unable to nurse his aching body through to the grass court season and a final Wimbledon hurrah.
But while he will pine for more – we all will – he doesn’t need anything extra to underline his place in Scottish, even British sporting folklore, as the greatest Scottish athlete of all time and arguably one of the best these isles have produced. In between the tears, Murray, who is the only person to be named Sports Personality of the Year three times, told the assembled media that he has “pretty much done everything that I could to try to get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads. I can play with limitations. But having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training”.
The fact he has done all he can to get better is no revelation. It is part of what took him to the top and allowed him to go toe-to-toe with some of the best-ever tennis players and come away with trophies. It is the kind of drive and steel that helped him bounce back from defeats more resolute, strong and humble enough to examine his weaknesses and work on them, and it is the attention to detail he used to squeeze out the extra one per cent that, when combined with his technical ability and tactical brain, gave him the speed of thought to match his pace around the court and prove a tough man to beat.
There are others who could stake a claim to the moniker of Greatest Scottish Sportsperson, others like Hoy, with six Olympic and 11 World golds, who are hugely decorated and respected and who have dug deep to prove that a small nation can produce athletes with big hearts and big ambitions. From the world of motor sport, Jim Clark fans talk of his two world championships and the potential to add to that success which was cut tragically short, and of Sir Jackie Stewart, who went one better by winning three world titles.
From football there are the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Billy McNeill, John Greig – individual stars and leaders of men, but when it came to European medals, they will acknowledge that glory came due to the sum of the parts and, on the world stage, they may have had respect but never surpassed the odds to win a world title.
Stephen Hendry did win world titles – seven of them – and was ranked world No 1 for eight consecutive seasons between 1990 and 1998, while distance runner Liz McColgan won world gold on the track, Allan Wells won an unimaginable Olympic gold in the sprints and Eric Liddell made history and inspired a movie with his principles and his athletic prowess and doubled up as a rugby union internationalist as well.
In bowls, Alex Marshall’s haul of world titles is record-breaking and, in boxing, Ken Buchanan is considered the best of some quality boxers to metaphorically punch above their weight, while Gavin Hastings is a world-renowned figure in rugby.
But Hoy was right. For Murray to do what he has done, in an era where he has been up against not just the best of all time but arguably three of the best of all time, is remarkable. He did it in a high-profile sport which lacked Scottish and British role models and blazed a path for those who will follow and he proved that, no matter how outrageous something seems, dedication and ability can prevail over the naysayers.
When he competed in his first Wimbledon in 2005, Murray was the first Scot to reach the third round in the Open era, but that was just the beginning. He shouldered the hopes and dreams of a success-starved nation and eventually found the wherewithal to end the 77-year wait for a British Wimbledon men’s champion, making a mockery of stereotypes and critics all the way. He has always been his own man, but he is a team player. That showed as he gave his all to the historic Davis Cup triumph and in the way he has stood up for others and in the selection of Amelie Mauresmo as coach. That wasn’t because of political correctness, or intended as a huge statement, it was simply that gender wasn’t an issue and he considered her the best person for the job.
Great can be defined as considerable in degree, power and intensity and that seems apt for Murray. He said he has done all he can. He did in every decision he took, every training session undertaken and in every match played and he deserves to be considered our greatest of all time.