Andy Murray and the All-England Club

Monday, July 15, 2013

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Well before Andy Murray’s thrilling victory in the Wimbledon final over Novak Djokovic, he had inherited the title of the “British man who would break the Wimbledon championship drought.”  As everyone heard countless times during the fortnight, the last British man to win the Gentlemen’s Singles at Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936.

All this talk, of course, overlooked the fact that four women had won the Ladies’ Singles championship since 1936, including Virginia Wade in the Queen’s Jubilee year, 1977 – a victory that was so celebrated, it’s remarkable that it has not been in the current conversation.  But there’s also something else that has not been in the conversation:  Andy Murray is Scottish.  If you looked closely enough, there was always something uneasy about Murray when someone mentioned to him the long dry streak for British men at Wimbledon.  He dutifully handles the questions and accepts the congratulations, but of course the title he won was at the “All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.”  There is nothing in the name about Scotland.

The competition and rivalry between Scotland and England in numerous sports – football (soccer), rugby and cricket among them – is fierce, and Murray no doubt was raised rooting for Scotland in such encounters.  Yes he is British, but the Wimbledon Championships are very English – and Fred Perry himself was an Englishman, though more on that in a minute.

It seemed a bit different for Murray last year when he won Olympic gold for Great Britain in the Olympics, played at Wimbledon.  “Team GB,” as it was known, really did have a sense of unity and purpose at the Olympics, as British Olympic teams historically have had (“Chariots of Fire” anyone?).  That team feel is what may have pushed Murray over the hump to win such an important competition and, once achieved, he had the confidence to go on and win the U.S. Open and now Wimbledon.  However, he displayed slightly different body language in accepting congratulations for a gold medal at the Olympics than he did in the face of congratulations about ending the British men’s dry spell at the All-England Club.  I can only compare the suble awkwardness of such moments to the awards ceremony at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, when Australian captain John Eales accepted the championship trophy from Queen Elizabeth on a day when Australia held a republic referendum that, had it passed, would have removed the monarchy from a role in Australian government.

But kudos to Andy Murray for handing the plaudits with grace.  However, I suspect that if an Englishman emerges as a potential Wimbledon champion in the future, we will be hearing about Fred Perry and 1936 all over again.  That, in itself, is also ironic.  Two years after his 1936 Wimbledon victory, Perry became an American citizen – so much so that he was drafted into the U.S. Air Force in World War II.

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