Andy Murray: the Man in the Arena

A column by for on
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic, Paris, April 1910.

After battling to hold serve at the beginning of the fifth set in his quarter-final clash with Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Andy Murray turned to his box, wagged his finger in the air and barked at the occupants of his player's box 'there's no way I'm losing this match'. Shortly after the world number two sealed his place  in his third Wimbledon final, his clothing sponsor Under Armour released a photo of him holding a sign bearing a similar slogan.

For all the lauding or blaming of the coaching team who prepare him, it is Murray who is the man on court. Every time his racquet connects with a ball on the match court it is his decision making behind the shot. Every winner he hits is hit by him alone. Every error too. The Scot can spend hours preparing, planning, strategising, with the people he employs to help him become the best player he can; but when he steps out on court, from the moment when the first ball is struck, what he does is his his choice, his responsibility.

The failures and triumphs are his. He may share in them with those who surround him but none of them can match the wild ecstasy he feels in his moments of high achievement. It is his body and mind which are pushed to the limit. Others may have a hand in the result, but it is Murray who has endured the solitude of the match court. The deeds are his.

During the three years since he last walked out onto Wimbledon's Centre Court on the final Sunday of the tournament, he has strived to return. At times it has been a struggle, a mad pursuit, but despite losses along the way his desire to return there has not yielded. This is the site of both his greatest triumph and his most heartbreaking loss. The court where he has experienced  fifty-eight victories and nine losses over eleven years of professional tennis.

The Wimbledon 2016 final will be the Scotsman's eleventh slam final. After reaching his first almost eight years ago at the 2008 US Open he has gone on to reach multiple finals at three out of the four slams and reached his first at Roland Garros just over a month ago. In his ten previous attempts to lift the most coveted titles in his sport he has triumphed twice.

The critics - the journalists, the pundits, the commentators, the former players, the fans - dissect what he did wrong on the eight occasions he walked away with a plate rather than a cup. It was his forehand they say; his second serve; his lack of mental strength. They take for granted that he has reached these finals. They forget that he is playing in an era that has seen three other men win twelve or more of these titles, and that each time he has reached the final Sunday he has been faced with one of two men: Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic.

This Wimbledon though, things are different. The man who will share the arena with him is full of ambition and expectation, but Milos Raonic has never reached the final Sunday of a slam before. Uncharted territory for both men. One will triumph, the other will fail. Murray is a better player now than he was when he won here in 2013.

The back injury that plagued him, that made him resent the game he loved, has greatly improved following surgery and a new training regime. The weaknesses in his game have had thousands of hours of attention, and he has built up his strengths: his return, his backhand, and his variety are showing the some of the highest levels of his career following two years of post-surgery devotion to improvement. Improvements that were necessary before he could hope to achieve the biggest prizes in tennis again. Along the way he had to dare to fail.

These improvements and the consistency he has shown over the last eighteen months have largely been taken for granted. 2015 saw the British number one have his most consistent year on tour, hugely improved on clay he won more matches than ever before and secured the world number two ranking before the end of the year; bar two weeks in 2016 he has occupied that spot ever since. The current season has seen him reach all three slam finals to date, with further improvements to his clay court game.

Each time Murray steps on court of late it seems he makes new history for himself. In reaching eleven slam finals he equals greats of an earlier era such as Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe, and Mats Wilander. On Wednesday he won his one hundredth match on grass. On Friday he overtook Bjorn Borg's tally of 51 match wins at Wimbledon. For some, however, these records and achievements pale in comparison to the achievement of winning seven best-of-five matches in the course of a fortnight.

Playing in the time of not one but three all-time greats has meant his trophy haul at the four grand slams has been slim, but it makes the victories all the more significant. We might take his consistency, his achievements, his records, his slam final appearances for granted but the man himself never will.

The fact that he is in this position as the favourite to win the tournament for a second time is the result of dedication in the face of Djokovic's two years of extraordinary dominance. Lesser people might have crumbled after multiple defeats, but Murray has not been deterred. Each time he puts himself in this position he gives himself the chance to triumph. With each failed attempt comes the opportunity to correct his mistakes, the chance to return to the site of his losses, to enter the arena again and again, to rewrite his own history.

If Murray does not end the Championships by lifting the trophy aloft many will bemoan another failure, a wasted opportunity, they will decry a fundamental lacking. But the attempt will be greater than the failure. Win or lose on Sunday 10th July 2016, Andy Murray is the man in the arena and he is not afraid to fail. His critics and chroniclers would do well to remember that.
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Excellent article ATL.  It brings to mind a quote by Michael Jordan, widely regarded as being the greatest basketball player of all time - “I have failed many times, and that's why I am a success.”   I also remember the words of Boris Becker (love him or loathe him) when he said that being on a tennis court is the loneliest feeling in the world because you are out there on your own and whether you win or not is entirely up to you.
July 10, 2016, 05:10 am
By Aileen

Excellent article, thank you all so true. Today, I hope is dedication , determination and will power will see him through.
July 10, 2016, 06:27 am
By jdonald

Well written and this reflects a solid and truthful account of Andy's tremendous character. He is one in a million and I am so incredibly thankful I've had him to watch, support and follow in the last 11 years. Through my enthusiasm for watching Andy play, I even got my american family to watch tennis  (previously almost unheard of) and they still follow and support this highly talented sportsman. I'm so hugely proud of him. I wish not luck, but  that he brings forth the culmination of all his talent and hard work on centre court this afternoon.  I'm so looking forward to watching.
July 10, 2016, 07:26 am
By Gail Whittaker

Thanks ATL for a fantastic article. I absolutely loved it.

One thing I suddenly realised as I woke up is that with all the tumultuous events in the last few weeks dividing the country, Andy is the one person who is uniting Great Britain with a predicted 18 million viewers for the upcoming final. His influence should not be under estimated.  It shows what is possible when one tries one's hardest in the pursuit of excellence, even in the face of possible failure.
July 10, 2016, 07:29 am
By Philip

An outstanding piece of writing.
July 10, 2016, 09:45 am
By Elizabeth McQueen.

ATL that was a superb piece of writing, many thanks. I hope very much that Andy reads it, enjoys it and values it. Your informative 'essays' on here do us proud and I for one enjoy them in a very positive fashion because they have increased my knowledge of a game I never played with any degree of enthusiasm. Good Luck Andy!
July 10, 2016, 11:50 am
By janscribe

Just lovely thank you ATL for your time to write such great article .
July 10, 2016, 11:57 am
By deb

Fabulous column
July 10, 2016, 11:59 am
By Lorraine Leath

As virtuoso in writing as Andy at tennis. Thanks atl
July 10, 2016, 12:15 pm
By circe

atl that was simply wonderful.   I loved the Roosevelt quote but you yourself excelled too with this one.  It deserves to be read much more widely than just on MW.
Philip you might be amused to know that at the top of the front page of the Observer today there's a photo of Andy and huge headline saying ANDY, PLEASE CHEER US UP!  under 'Weather terrible, sterling tumbling, politics dismal, Euro flops (not Wales), Brexit coming, recession looming...'  I loved Andy's response to that question in his recent press conference on similar lines when he laughed and said 'it's not that bad is it?' 
If the worst happens and Andy doesn't win, I'll re-read this atl.  Thanks again,
July 10, 2016, 12:27 pm
By Ruthie

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