I never thought that my second blog would be about sport. But as a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tennis (couch-potato division), I wanted to mark Andy Murray’s achievements at the Olympics. I was lucky enough to be cheering him on on Murray’s Mount (surely no longer Henman Hill?) on Sunday and a month earlier I’d shed tears along with many others as he made his emotional speech after his 4-set defeat to Roger Federer. To see him thrash Federer (to quote the BBC’s Jonathan Overend) in straight sets was a joy.
Murray divides the British public. If you look at a fan website such as Murrays World you’ll find passionate supporters (not just British). But he’s taken a lot of stick from parts of the media and those who think tennis begins and ends with Wimbledon. So many times I’ve heard grumbles that he’s a loser (ignoring 8 Masters titles); that he doesn’t smile; that he’s anti-English (because of that ‘anyone but England’ joke). I’ve even overheard people rejoicing when he loses on the ‘anyone but Murray’ principle.
Why does this supremely talented, dedicated and modest young man attract such antipathy? I don’t think it’s just because he can look grumpy at times. Could it be a question of nation and class? IPPR has identified growing anti-Scottish sentiment among the English. And Murray has never fitted the home counties template of what a ‘gentleman’ tennis player should look and sound like. But happily that does seem to be changing now.
More importantly from the perspective of British tennis is whether his gold and silver medals (take a bow too Laura Robson) will inspire a younger generation. Murray has suffered from being the only world class male singles player of his generation. There are now some genuine talents emerging in both the women’s and men’s game and the Lawn Tennis Association’s Allplay initiative aims to get more people playing tennis. But, as its Chief Executive Roger Draper acknowledges, its ‘job now is to capitalise’ on the medals. All thoughts welcome on how it should do so.