David and I debated a few podcasts ago, before the start of the 2017 season, who we considered to be the favourite for the men’s singles titles at the upcoming Australian Open. David reckoned Djokovic, given he's won six of the things already. I reckoned Murray, owing to him being the World Number One, and having beaten Djokovic in their last meeting (this pod was recorded post O2, pre Doha).
The fact is, it’s marginal. More marginal than it’s been for any Grand Slam of late.
I have to admit that I probably predict Murray to win more than I should on the podcast. Why?
A) I’m British, and B) I really like Andy Murray.
He isn't perfect, I’m not claiming that. Sometimes his behaviour on court is tough to watch. But then, I think it’s probably a tough watch for Andy too, if and when he does watch himself back (surely he does). And that’s one of the things that pleasingly distinguishes him from a lot of athletes/millionaires/megastars; self reflection.
There are other things that set him apart from many of his peers, and you might not be surprised to hear that I consider one of those to be his attitude towards women. I know in the great scheme of things he’s no Germaine Greer or Laura Bates, but in the context of his environment, he really is. Because that environment is about as macho as it gets. I won’t go into detail here because David would like me to keep this blog ‘upbeat’ (not always my go-to vibe), but let’s just say I speak from experience, and they have not always been brilliant experiences.
Can you think of any high profile male athlete that’s actually dared to label himself a feminist before? I certainly can’t. And again, that shouldn’t be something someone deserves any particular credit for (no-one gets a pat on the back for declaring that they’re not a racist), but in the context of tennis locker rooms, and I imagine most sports locker rooms, it definitely is.
I have certainly always felt respected whenever I have had dealings with him or had the opportunity to interview him. Some might take this for granted, but as a women working in sport, and in particular I suppose on TV, the default position is often that you’re assumed at worst to be some kind of bimbo, or at best to be unqualified, until you prove yourself otherwise. On good days I enjoy that challenge and relish proving people wrong. On grumpy days I resent that it’s necessary and often send David a barrage of disillusioned messages so that he can say reassuring things (he’s good at that). But I always look forward to interviewing Murray because I know I can relax in the knowledge that he thinks I’m decent at my job, and wouldn’t be there if I were not.
Another of his most basic charms is that he’s just a pretty normal guy. Simon Briggs from The Telegraph wrote a great piece along these lines at the end of last year and I echo his well-expressed thoughts completely. It is such an overused cliche to say that someone is unaffected by the luxuries of fame and success, but in this case I do believe it applies. The truest test comes not when a player has won; it’s easy to be nice when things are going your way. It comes when a player has lost. When Andy Murray loses a match there is no mask that slips, no commitment that goes unhonoured no question that goes unanswered, or worse, rudely answered. He remains the same human being. He will still give thoughtful and considered answers in press conferences. Stuart Fraser in The Times wrote last week how he stuck to a lengthy, pre-arranged interview after the final in Doha. A 3-hour, gut-wrenching final that he lost. He will still give an interview to BBC Radio 5 Live, even though he’s only technically required to speak to his country’s TV broadcaster. He still speaks to Eurosport, even if he’s only required to speak to BBC TV.
It is unusual for any player ranked inside the Top 50 to do any media beyond the minimum mandatory requirements after a loss, and it is a real marker of Andy Murray’s integrity and normality that he does.
So, I don’t know if he’s going to win the Australian Open, or fall short once again. To be honest, the objective part of my brain probably now puts Djokovic as the marginal favourite; he won their epic Doha final, showing his old fighting spirit in the process, and as David points out, six Melbourne titles are hard to ignore. And who’s to say Federer, or Nadal, or someone else entirely won’t come along and win the thing? Any one of those scenarios would be special and interesting in their own way. But there's no doubt that it would be a big deal if Murray does finally win it. Yes, because I’m British. Also because I’ve witnessed, up close, his consistently thwarted plight to win this title over the last eight years, his every sinew straining to try and get him over the elusive finish line.
But most of all, I suppose, because I think he’s an all-round decent guy, deserving of good things.