Finally, Perry can rest in peace
Murray's heroic victory at Wimbledon brings to an end one of the longest running sagas in tennis, much to the relief of Britain
It was a radically different world back then when Germany's Baron Gottfried Von Cramm met Britain's Fred Perry in the men's singles championship at Wimbledon in 1936. In three weeks, German Chancellor and Fuhrer Adolf Hitler would officially open the Olympic Games in Berlin and while the dashing and personable Von Cramm was one of the most popular and respected players in tennis, the flag he represented that year at Wimbledon still had a swastika in the middle of it.
Despite that, few who watched the match at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club could envision the horror and sacrifice of an impending global conflict. But even fewer people in the stands that day when Perry defeated Von Cramm could have imagined it would be 77 years before another British man was crowned champion of Great Britain's sporting jewel.
It certainly was not something I was thinking about a few years back when I met a Scottish woman in Shanghai who I felt had the least enviable job in the universe. We were both working the Shanghai Masters tennis tournament featuring the top 16 players in the world. Her fellow Scot, Andy Murray, had just won his opening match and we were settling in to watch world number one Rafael Nadal play before she bolted upright and began to leave. "Where you going?" I asked. "I have to go write about Andy," she said. "All I write about is Andy and whoever he plays."
That was her sole gig for one of the biggest dailies in Scotland. All Andy, all the time wherever in the world he was playing. "Man," I said, "that can't be easy." After all, nobody did self-flagellation on court like Murray. He was easily the most tortured soul in tennis and his relationship with the British media didn't exactly seem to be one of mutual admiration. But she told me he was actually OK and very generous with her. "He understands I have a job to and he is much more relaxed outside of the UK," she said.
I guess he would be and after talking to her a bit more I also realised that Murray could well be the most misunderstood athlete of his generation. Certainly no athlete anywhere carried the pressure and expectations Murray did. There are nine Spaniards and seven Frenchmen ranked in the top 50 players in the world. The second highest ranked Brit after world number two Murray is James Ward at 219. Outside of Murray, the two highest ranked British players in the last 20 years were Greg Rusedski, who was born and raised in Montreal, and Tim Henman, who had a very successful career but was cursed to be playing in the prime of seven-time Wimbledon champ Pete Sampras.
Four times Henman made the semi-finals at Wimbledon only to come up short in every one of them. Murray is easily the most talented and accomplished British player since Perry. The burden of decades of Wimbledon futility has fallen solely on him since he was a dominant junior player some 10 years ago. Combine that with the fact that his contemporaries Nadal and Roger Federer are considered to be among the top five players of all time and that world number one Novak Djokovic is well on his way to joining that exclusive club and the challenge facing the temperamental Murray became even more ridiculously daunting.
Some 18 months ago he decided to hire the uber-stoic former champion Ivan Lendl, who had been largely off the tennis radar, as his coach. And while the move was something of a surprise, the results speak for themselves. He won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and his first grand slam victory at last year's US Open. In both cases, Murray exhibited a maturity and calmness that had been missing throughout his career.
But Wimbledon would bring an altogether different level of expectation for the top player in the UK after a tearful loss to Federer in last year's final. Murray found himself back in this year's final against the irrepressible Djokovic and remarkably one point away from victory. I defy anyone, even the greatest of all athletes, to find a way to breathe when you are serving for championship point to the number one player in the world in perhaps the most iconic cathedral in sports to break a 77-year national embarrassment.
In my lifetime, I have never seen a greater moment of sporting pressure. But Murray was born for this moment and no amount of hyperbole could properly do it justice. Fred Perry, rest in peace. Finally.