x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Murray just grim so bear with it

Osman Samiuddin writes the non-reaction in the first two minutes after winning his first slam at the US Open provided a weirdly compelling reason to start thinking differently about Andy Murray.

No dancing. No crying. Andy Murray celebrated his first grand slam title by putting his hands in front of his mouth, looking  up and crouching on the court. He later said he was a lot was going through his mind.
No dancing. No crying. Andy Murray celebrated his first grand slam title by putting his hands in front of his mouth, looking up and crouching on the court. He later said he was a lot was going through his mind.

It was a nice little touch. Asked about his coach Ivan Lendl after winning his first grand slam title, Andy Murray quipped that he might even have seen the traces of a smile from the former world No 1.

To be fair it did not look like a smile as much as a partial unveiling of teeth (picture a black leather jacket, sunglasses and the smile could have been Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator).

The funny thing is, had he been asked Lendl might have been moved to make a similarly droll observation about his player.

In fact, the non-reaction in the first two minutes after winning his first slam at the US Open provided a weirdly compelling reason to start thinking differently about Murray.

As Novak Djokovic's return went long, Murray pulled off the not inconsiderable feat of appearing to have not won anything. Rather, he actually looked like he had lost some ho-hum point, maybe to go 30-15 down in the fourth game of a first-round first set somewhere outside the majors in ATP-land

He turned around to look at his team in their box with less emotion than he had at any point during the match, got on his haunches and covered his face, looking like some errant schoolboy.

Here he probably allowed himself to let go though he would be damned if anyone else saw.

Djokovic arrived for a gracious hug, warm and genuine, before Murray crossed to the other side of the net, staggered around in a dazed oval, got on his haunches again, then walked back to his chair.

Mostly he looked like he was in pain.

Then he actually began grimacing and - here's the best bit - appeared to have a minor hissy fit with his camp across the court: was he really telling them he doesn't have a pass to go into their box and celebrate?

He eventually limped across to them, but just said something and then limped back.

This was some bizarre world where Pat Cash's pioneering Wimbledon stand-climb of 1987 had not happened.

The whole scene was so underwhelming at what must have been such an overwhelming moment that it was a little unsettling, and even more so given Murray's emotionality on court (even if it is a constipated, half-expressed kind).

At the moment of winning a slam, Roger Federer skips and cries like a six-year-old girl; Rafael Nadal crumples in a suitably Iberian and openly expressive way; Djokovic has some frat-boyish moves. Soon, if not immediately after, they start beaming smiles.

Murray did not really smile at all. He just looked exhausted and spent. Later he said he felt relief and that was the most fitting articulation of his physicality post-triumph.

He explained later, not gleaming, not effulgent, that he was thinking about a lot of things at the moment.

"I don't know if it's disbelief or whatever," he said. "I'm very, very happy on the inside; I'm sorry if I'm not showing it as you would like."

And sometimes, from the outer, you can empathise with relief far easier than with the elation elite athletes must feel upon triumph; we, normal beings, mostly seek relief from all kinds of daily pressures and here was Murray finding relief from his own peculiar pressures.

In that sense it was a very humanising moment, more even than his Wimbledon tears.

That is important because Murray has been easy to not like.

Much of it is not his own fault.

He is a fine player, a deserving winner and addition to this champion era even if he chooses to be a counterpunching chaser while hinting that he could be a benign dictator of rallies.

The problem has not been Murray but the media around Murray, desperate to garland him as a slam champion before he became a slam champion.

At times over the last four years, they have not been so much journalists as creepy disciples, whispering to anyone who might listen that he will win a slam, he will win a slam, he will win a slam.

Well, for four years and four sets he looked exactly like a guy who will do a lot, and win a lot, too, but not win a slam, a guy who may well be defined by his inability to win a slam.

If we are lucky that kind of slavering may be at an end. And maybe an unsmiling champion, fighting it out with three shinier, smiley ones, is not the last thing tennis needs.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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