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One Man Mission

• Posted in Tennis • By JoeBaker

One moment summed up everything that winning the Davis Cup meant to Andy Murray. After executing a brilliant running, back-hand lob to secure a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory and his team’s 3-1 triumph in the final over Belgium, he collapsed to the red-clay beneath him. Immense joy, shock, relief and exhaustion etched into his face. Hands on his head in disbelief. Tears welling in his eyes. It was the most emotional response to a victory we had ever seen from Britain’s number 1; more so than the reactions seen when winning Wimbledon, the US Open or Olympic Gold. The win concluded one of the great contributions from a British sportsman or women to a single cause as Murray almost single-handedly lead his country to their first Davis Cup since 1936. It also surely removed any doubt regarding Murray’s entry into the pantheon of British sporting legends.

His efforts in the final were characteristic of everything he had contributed towards a task he had made his mission to complete. After Kyle Edmund lost the opening match to world number 16 David Goffin, Murray got his team up and running by beating Ruben Bemelmans before taking to the court with his brother to win the doubles and then sealing the deal by beating Goffin. All within 3 days in the opponent’s back yard on a surface he had a matter of days to prepare for after the ATP World Tour Finals. Britain had not reached the final for 37 years and were 33-1 outsiders at the start of the campaign. It was only 5 years ago that they had to win a play-off against Turkey to avoid relegation into the Davis Cup’s fourth division. Now, after a terrific run that saw them defeat all the other Grand Slam Nations in Australia, the United States and France, they are at the very summit of the sport. They would not even have reached base camp if not for Murray.

As the celebrations began on-court at the 13,000-capacity Flanders Expo arena, Murray’s team-mates lifted him into the air. It was fitting as for so long he had been carrying them. The pressure on Murray, as it has been ever since the country first realised that it had a half-decent player in the making, was huge. He’s carried the weight of national expectation for years but the team-focused nature of the Davis Cup made this responsibility even more profound.  He did not let anyone down. The intense physical and mental challenge was passed with flying colours. An undefeated singles record gave Britain 8 of their 12 points over the tournament, while he was equally as outstanding in winning all 3 of the doubles matches he played with his brother Jamie. Only one victory did not involve the younger of Dunblane’s famous siblings. All of these were “live” rubbers, with each of Britain’s tie wins being confirmed by Murray winning his second singles match. His Brussels brilliance made him the first player to win three “live” rubbers in a Davis Cup Final since a certain Pete Sampras two decades ago.

It was immensely refreshing to see an individual who has achieved so much success flying solo revelling in and enjoying this team environment. Murray wasn’t obliged to play in the tournament; indeed many of the game’s very top players chasing their own glories would have bowed out earlier considering that the quarter final was a week after Wimbledon and the semi a week after the US Open. Yet Murray’s desire not just to win for his country but do it with his teammates, friends, a captain he has known since he was a child and of course his brother meant there was never a chance of him departing the stage until the last scene was completed. Murray fed off the support of these colleagues and never once viewed it as a chance just another personal milestone. He wanted to win it for them, not just with them. While Murray’s contribution was undeniably crucial others did of course have a role to play, not least Jamie Murray in their hat-trick of doubles wins, the third against Goffin and Steve Darcis in the final putting their team on the brink. If James Ward had not pulled off the shock of beating world number 11 John Isner, they would not have knocked out the USA in round 1. Coach Leon Smith deserves praise for the way he has led this British revival and there’s no denying that Kyle Edmund taking Goffin to five sets in the opening match must have had an effective on a player who, like Murray, had 3 games to play in consecutive days. Murray’s humility made him the first to champion his teammate’s efforts but he was the glue that kept them together. His determination to make history with his mates shone throughout.

While there have been no Grand Slams, his integral role in this Davis Cup topped off one of Murray’s finest seasons. He had already played an astonishing 101 matches before putting himself through a physical and mental challenge in the final that few players would have be capable of enduring. This year was the first in which he has finished the season as the world No2. Surely in any other generation he would have spent time as No1 by now? Again he fell at the final hurdle of the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic, he almost achieved a wonderful semi-final comeback against the same player at the French and he was only stopped at Wimbledon by a Roger Federer semi-final performance lauded as one of the finest ever seen on Centre Court. He reached 7 singles finals, with his 4 wins including a first on clay that was swiftly followed by a second, against Rafael Nadal of all people, in Madrid of all places. Winning the Davis Cup should thus also highlight a season that will rank as one of his best.

The Davis Cup was another ghost of British tennis that Murray has expelled. Another box spectacularly ticked off in his very own one-man mission to make British tennis history. He ended a 28,124-day wait for a home men’s winner at Wimbledon, became the first British player since 1977, and the first British man since 1936, to win a Grand Slam when he clinched the US Open and became the first British singles Olympic champion in over 100 years. All in probably the most competitive ever era in the game. Now he has been the main figure in bringing the Davis Cup back to Britain for the first time since Fred Perry and Bunny Austin did the same 79 years ago. He stands as one of only four players who have won the Davis Cup and singles titles at Wimbledon and the Olympics.

The Davis Cup is a team orientated tournament and none appreciate that reality more than Murray. Nevertheless, this latest bit of history, something few thought was ever possible, would simply never have happened without him. In the 115-year history of the competition it is quite possible that no country has ever owed so much to one individual. We have had few solo sportsmen or women like him; no British individual has had a bigger impact on their sport. Murray’s inspiring efforts during this Davis Cup have sealed his position at the top table of British sporting legends. The greatest British tennis player of all time? That is now without doubt. The greatest British sportsman of all time? He surely cannot now be far off.

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