Thursday, May 8, 2008

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ANDY...MURRAY THAT IS

Here’s what I can’t stand about Andy Murray – it’s not his ridiculous haircut, or his insufferable demeanor, nor the absurdity of his ever-growing entourage of trainers, mothers, masseuses and coaches. What I can’t stand about Andy Murray is his sense of entitlement.

To be fair, it’s hard to expect more of someone who’s been showered with more undeserving praise than anyone in professional tennis. The British media, renowned for their willful collaboration with sporting "authorities" to create the unmerited illusion of competitiveness in sports they once dominated (take your pick: rugby, football, tennis, cricket…) have taken this to a new level with the inexplicable obsession with Andy Murray. It’s true that he’s beaten Roger Federer a couple of times (so has Willy Canas, but you don’t see the Argentine press fawning over him) and he’s the highest ranking British tennis player in the world (which is not saying much since they haven’t had a decent crop of players since Rusedski and Henman), but the effect of this has created a monster that is neither pleasant to behold, nor easy to contemplate.

Recently Murray indicated, to the horror of British tennis fanatics around the world, that if he couldn’t compete in the top 10 he’d retire from tennis. I don't believe I've been so keen to see a player drop out of the 10 ten in 30 years of watching tennis. There was, of course, no mention of what he’d do if he weren’t playing tennis – but when you’re spoiled and think the commonwealth is your oyster, you tend not to consider these things on the odd occasion that you contemplate something other than your next paycheck.

This week, Murray had a first round match in Italy against Juan Martin del Potro – a spindly 6’5” Argentine who hits like a ton of bricks, but generally whose accuracy is inversely proportional to his power. While his results have improved dramatically over the last two years, very few people outside of tennis have any idea who he is, and until he gets some decent results, Monday’s farcical exchange with an equally narrow Andy Murray, will probably be what he is best known for.

In this match, Murray, in all his tactical genius, decided at 4-4 in the second set to serve and volley. This of course involves volleying which, despite his grossly exaggerated reputation as an all-court player, Murray is not particularly good at. The serve was laughably weak, and del Potro promptly pummeled it at his feet, to which Murray replied with a weak looping volley that dropped just beyond the service line to his right. This situation is tricky for del Potro – if he tries to belt it up the line, he has to get it up and down where the net is 6 inches higher, and as such can lead to an error long or in the net. Try to push it up the line, and Murray gets a cheap shot at another volley. Rope it cross court, and any player with a modicum of tactical sense will know this is the higher percentage play, and will typically cheat in that direction, hoping to poach to the open court for a winner.

On this particular play, which you can see in the first point of this clip:

Murray actually begins to cheat to his left, but then suddenly stays where he is. Del Potro, recognizing the situation rightly hit it as hard as he could right down the gut – in fact it was a little to Murray’s right, and may even have ventured long had Murray not gotten his racquet on it. What ensued is almost as comical as it is revealing:

For some reason, unbeknownst to either del Potro, the chair umpire, or the 3-4 unbiased onlookers who stuck around to see the conclusion of this (mercilessly) rain-delayed match, Murray expected an apology from del Potro, and even kept his forehand extended pose long enough for him to see if he bothered to look back at Murray. He didn’t, and he didn’t, and apparently Murray took exception to this.

Now we all know that Murray is accustomed to being watched intently and playing in front of large audiences, so the empty stadium likely did nothing to garner his attention, and understandably he may have needed a lift to take the match a little more seriously. But rather than digging deep and slapping himself in the cheek (either literally – which would have suited me just fine – or figuratively) he chose to use this curiously inferred slight as his cue to get pumped.

Only Murray didn’t bother to play better or even more adventurously – he simply began cheering del Potro’s errors. And Judy Murray being Judy Murray, joined in the festivities. Del Potro may be a qualifier, but any self-respecting player would take exception – there’s nothing more annoying than an opponent (and his mother) patting him/themselves on the back as reward for points given to him/them on errors. But Murray being Murray, expected an apology for the non-drilling (which he didn’t deserve, and didn’t get) and later had the temerity to make allusions to it on the change-over. He went so far as to extend his rather giraffe-ish neck around the umpire’s chair to reiterate his expectation of an apology for his opponent hitting his shot 3-4 feet to his right on a crap volley.

Then came this adorable exchange:

Murray: You try and hit a ball at me and you think it's fine.
del Potro: You are always the same hey? You never change.
Murray: You yeah.
Umpire: OK boys, I'll handle it now.
del Potro: And your mother, she's the same always.
Umpire: Just save it 'till later.
Murray: Do you want to speak about my Mum again? Huh?
Umpire: Andy...
Murray: No, no, no... that's unacceptable.
Umpire: That's what I'm just about to say, let me handle it...
Murray: This guy hits it straight at me...
Umpire: Well, he can do that!
Murray: Then I can say something when he's hitting off the frame too!
Umpire: It's only going to get worse if you get involved, trust me, just let me handle it...Juan, that's enough okay?

So his complaints began with the expectation of deference to his oh-so-beautiful face (i.e. “How dare you have the nerve to hit a ball within 10 feet of my million-pound-sterling smile”), and migrated to the exception he took to del Potro righteous indignation.

We still haven’t come within a country mile of either the scud-missile Murray claimed was aimed at his head, or the insult for which he was so ready to challenge del Potro to a duel. Frankly I think Fergus Murphy did him a favor, because he nearly bought himself an on-court ass-whipping had the umpire not graciously stepped in to save him from himself.  But what exactly was it that got Murray so hot and bothered? That’s right – not getting an apology for not hitting the passing shot within 5 feet of him.

Now this is, in my opinion, the epitome of an undeserved sense of entitlement. Murray doesn't get any special dispensation because the British play him up to be the next best thing, and his mother doesn't get any special protection because her son thinks she’s the nicest lady in the world – what spoiled brat doesn't think the same of his own mother.

If she’s going to be antagonizing her son’s opponents by sticking it in their craw every time they hit the ball off the frame, then she’s going to come into some criticism, and Sir Quit-A-Lot shouldn't bother coming to her defense. If she doesn't want to be criticized, she can keep quiet and watch the match in anonymity like every other sane mother on tour. And if Murray doesn't want to risk getting hit by the ball when he’s at the net, then one of his 16 coaches can teach him to volley properly.

Let's not gloss over the fact that Murray patently lied about the entire incident when asked about it in his press conference. Now, why anyone bothers to attend these circus shows is beyond me, but in response to a question about the exchange Murray claimed, according to the AP, that del Potro went head-hunting on the pass, and then insulted his mother. The video above refutes both charges, where it is clear that not only did del Potro not hit at him (although it is his right to do so), but he also didn't just spontaneously spout off an insult to his mother. He was in fact, antagonized by Murray (which was conveniently not reported), and responded, I would say, rather mildly to it.

Murray revealed himself to be a liar, an instigator and a self-absorbed prig in one brief moment of lunacy - therapist's chairs have seen less revealing sessions. In fact, I don't know how much of a revelation this was - more like a confirmation.

At the end of the day, it is the prince of the other most unbearable family in tennis, the Djoker-vic’s that may have said it best:

"In the UK a lot of kids are a little bit spoiled. If you have perfect conditions and everything you want, you don't know the real meaning of tennis and you don't work as hard as you are supposed to. You do not have hunger for success because everything is on a plate."

Rather than berating him for the piercing nature of his comments, the British press would do well to heed his observations and consider their own role in creating the Enfant Terrible that is Andy Murray and every other British tennis player that shows some promise. Stop the hype, and wait until the kid earns some of the praise you just can’t wait to heap on him, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find someone on the island that can play tennis, and...dare I say it...win one for the Queen.
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