Photo courtesy BBC
The BBC’s publicity people have got one hell of a job on their hands this December. If they can make this year’s Sports Personality seem like anything other than a foregone conclusion, they will seriously have earned their complementary table wine at the Christmas party. I’m quite sure they’ll do their darnedest, but only those who have been living under rocks will be fooled into thinking that there is anything like the feverish competition of recent awards. It’s Andy Murray’s, and everyone knows it.
This is really quite an extraordinary statement, especially in an Olympic year. Under normal circumstances, the heroic achievements of Trott, Kenny and Whitlock would have seen them duelling for the trophy. But these are no normal circumstances, and Andy Murray is no normal man. Whilst his year began in familiar fashion – losing a fifth Australian Open final to his conqueror on four of those occasions, Novak Djokovic – it then saw Murray scale unprecedented heights. A first French Open final on his least-favoured surface was followed by his second Wimbledon title. He then became the first man to defend the Olympic singles crown. And finally, to cap it all off so gloriously, he ended the year as World Number One.
Some have sniffed at the significance of this accolade. What does being World Number One really matter? Winning Grand Slams, they say, is the real mark of a champion, and Murray’s total of three is not the haul of a true great. Certainly, the furore that has greeted his ascent to the top of tennis does seem a touch overblown when considered alongside some of those who have occupied top spot in the last 20 years. Thomas Muster, Carlos Moya, Marcelo Rios and Gustavo Kuerten are, you would have to concede, hardly household names. The thing that sets Murray apart from these players, however, is that none of them had to contend with a figure such as Djokovic, who at the age of 29 should still be in his prime. The fact that Murray has done – never mind the bulk of his career coinciding with Federer and Nadal – makes his a truly remarkable achievement.
Yet, where this writer will draw the line is just before the tiresome, inevitable comparisons with other ages and other sports. Is Murray one of the greatest British sportspeople of all time? The enormity of the question, and all of its variables, make it impossible to answer. If you had to, you would surely say no. At no point has he truly dominated his sport, so to discuss Murray as the greatest sporting Briton of all time is to surely devalue the rich and varied achievements and contributions that have come from these isles.
If, however, his current momentum is continued, and 2017 truly is the year of Andy Murray – á la Djokovic in 2015, Nadal in 2010, or Federer for most of the noughties – then we can reopen this discussion. In fact, we’d then have to have a very serious conversation indeed.
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