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The Day Britain Finally Learned To Love Andy Murray For Andy Murray

Illustration for article titled The Day Britain Finally Learned To Love Andy Murray For Andy Murray

British tennis fans are kind of awful, and I say this as a British tennis fan. It's been noted recently that the crowd on Centre Court have a lower bar for what constitutes a brilliant joke than even the audience at a Russell Brand show. Sneezing line judges and pigeons on court are enough to get them rolling in the aisles; the other day, the mere cry of "come on Agassi" when Andre was in the Royal Box was enough to leave most of the 15,000 present incapacitated by laughter. Come on Agassi! Like he's on court waiting to receive serve! But actually he's been RETIRED FOR YEARS! AHAHAHAHAHA!

I don't have a lot of time for that Henman Hill bollocks, either. People were camping in the rain on Saturday night so they could pay to sit on a muddy hill and watch the tennis on a screen in reasonable proximity to where it was being played. This is like camping in the rain so you can sit outside a Madonna gig and listen to it on the radio. Like most things attached to Wimbledon for the British, it's fan-tourism for posh people: a fortnight-long experiment in what it's like to really care about sport, with none of the lasting heartache that you have to tolerate if you get into football. When we lose the football, it's just fucking awful, because we think about it all the time, and we have the best league in the world, and we should be good at it, and it's really embarrassing that we're not. When we lose the tennis… I mean, we haven't had a men's champion in 76 years. What did you expect? Pass another jellied eel and let's reminisce about the Empire again, Maude. The cricket'll be on soon.

In a roundabout way, this is why Murray's defeat, and the response to it, were actually moving, and not just the sports-analogue for moving that you generally get in these moments. Murray has a reputation as a surly bastard, which has always seemed a little unfair to me, since it's based mostly on a comparison of his haphazardly hairy, Butthead-length face with the angelic square jaw of his athletic inferior Tim Henman. Henman also had the good fortune to be born in Oxford, not Glasgow, and a reputation for celebrating, or conceding defeat, politely. People who do not like sport therefore found him appealing.


Murray, on the other hand, has a bit of a snarl to him—a snarl viewed by some of his more idiotic detractors from the South as a specifically Scottish characteristic. The Anglo-Scottish stuff is widely summarized, accurately or not, by a line that the Centre Court crowd would doubtless appreciate: Murray is British when he wins, Scottish when he loses. This contention and the background to it are simply too knotty to unravel properly here, so for simplicity's sake, if you have one takeaway from this piece, Americanos, let it be that the UK and England ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE TERMS. Anyway, yeah, it's all kind of besides the point: when Murray leans back and howls in triumph, the vertical span of his mouth doesn't make him look Glaswegian so much as it does like Giger's xenomorph contemplating something good to eat.

The idea that any of this stuff is an index of his actual personality is plainly for the birds. Still, when he took the microphone after Federer finished him off yesterday, there was a sense of a man finally escaping all this extrinsic weight, finally emerging not as a repository for a national dream that gets wheeled out once a year and then swiftly forgotten about, but as a world class athlete who had the misfortune to play against the greatest talent his sport has ever produced. Almost for the first time, a nation with a weird knack of demonizing and looking down at its heroes was recognising him as an actual human being. When he wept, the Centre Court crowd, and the millions watching at home, didn't weep with him because they wanted a bauble for Britain, in a summer that has been, and will continue to be, full of that kind of bullshit; they wept because he seemed to be a pretty OK guy who deserved something better, and they could see how hard he'd worked for it.

He did get half a million quid, though, so let's not go totally nuts about this.

Archie Bland is deputy editor of The Independent.

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