And so the glory-glory summer rolls on. Andy Murray’s five-set triumph over Novak Djokovic at the US Open makes him the first British man to win a tennis Grand Slam since Fred Perry in 1936. It wasn’t so long ago that the Scot seemed congenitally doomed, as if his blood turned into Irn-Bru, his hands into haggises at the crucial moment. With this victory he can take his place among British sporting greats.
See what I did there? Sharp-eyed readers will have already noticed that every time Murray loses, he is a Scot, and every time he wins, he is British. By extension, every time he complains about this, he is dour, and the reason he wasn’t in the victory parade on Monday wasn’t because he was resting for the final, but because he was too tight to catch the plane from New York.
I hope that with this final vindication of his talent we will learn to let Murray define himself on his own terms.
We have had a lot of talk of patriotism this summer. But when we cheer our sportsmen and women, what are we cheering? We claim their victories as our victories — though we didn’t scrabble round the baseline at Flushing Meadows, thwacking backhands through the cramp. We didn’t put in the mirthless hours of squats, thrusts and lifts in the gym, either.
Our desire to hail sporting heroes is rarely patriotism in the Victorian, war-mongering sense that politicians like to draw on. It’s more because we identify with them a bit, and like to share the feeling. People also affirm common values at One Direction concerts and Muslim prayer meetings, picket lines and fox hunts. Britishness is one thing that we all have loosely in common, but it’s not the only thing.
Personally, I’ve always admired Murray not because he is British, but because he refuses to play the role expected of him. He made his Wimbledon debut at the tail end of the “C’mon Tim!” era, but made it clear quite quickly that he wasn’t doing this to woo the ladies on Henman Hill. Then he caused uproar by revealing that like any self-respecting Scot, he was not remotely interested in the English football team.
Instead of playing a part in a Richard Curtis drama he focused on improving his game, channelling his gawky aggression. Eventually, he worked out the best way was by enlisting a Czech coach, training in Spain using an American racket.
It is true that he seemed to draw strength from being part of the British team at the Olympics. But to what extent can we claim his triumphs as victories for Britain? They are just as much victories for curly-haired people, or single-minded people, or for men who aren’t afraid to cry. And all the more inspiring for it.