When Fred Perry earned his third consecutive Wimbledon victory in 1936, he surely never imagined that seventy-six years would elapse before another Briton would lay claim to a major championship. He never could have predicted the seventy-seven year drought at the All England Club—and he certainly never imagined a controversial Scottish professional would bravely solve both problems in the span of a year.
When Andy Murray turned professional in 2005, Great Britain was introduced to its next alleged savior: an ultracompetitive teenager with a fiery temper who understood the gravity of his mission. It definitely wasn’t a match made in heaven, as Murray’s antics on the court drew the ire of sports fans worldwide, while his off-court remarks added to the debate on Scottish independence. There were tears shed following the 2010 Australian Open final and the 2012 Wimbledon Championships, but in 2013, the English crowd received an overdue gift from its battle-hardened hero: a British name etched forever in its majestic trophy.
Despite the roars of approval after Murray secured his Wimbledon title, let there be no mistake about it: Andy Murray is not accorded with the respect fit for a player of his caliber. He’s not the pride of England—if anything, he’s a hero of convenience. I acknowledge the controversial nature of this statement, and attempt to answer the following question: Where is the respect for Andy Murray?
In today’s professional tennis landscape, respect is derived from a player’s identity. Federer is associated with graceful movement and a beautiful serving motion, Nadal is appreciated for his ferocious forehand, and Djokovic is renowned for his ability to return any serve in the book. Stanislas Wawrinka is admired for his extraordinary first serve, and let’s not forget the theatrics of France’s Gaël Monfils. Professionals build their brand through their playing styles, and it’s clear that Murray lacks an x-factor skill that could make him a fan-favorite. It’s true that Murray single-handedly brought two grand slam titles to millions of Britons, and that households worldwide instantly associate the Dunblane native with this feat. However, once the enormity of reclaiming Wimbledon for England faded away, Murray still lagged behind the big three in skill set and achievements.
On his personal website, Andy Murray’s profile highlights several impressive credentials: his status as the second-ranked player in the world, ownership of an Olympic gold medal, and claim to 35 singles titles. Why then, is Murray not accorded with the respect he deserves? In order to shed light on this question, let’s draw a comparison with the well-respected Andy Roddick.
First, we need to establish a few similarities. Both players have won over 30 tournaments in their careers, and both were saddled with enormous expectations following their ascent from the juniors. The two superstars were repeatedly torched by Federer in grand slam finals (albeit, Murray has a better overall head-to-head record, and dismantled Federer in the 2012 Olympic finals) for the majority of their careers. Perhaps most importantly, the American legend and British superstar expressed their emotions outwardly—whether that takes the form of complaining to the chair or destroying rackets. It sounds like both merit the same status in the tennis world… right?
Nope. And here’s why:
As I stated earlier, respect boils down to identity. While many fans grew irritated with Roddick’s explosive antics on the court, his competitive spirit was an integral part of his game. It’s no coincidence that Roddick’s serve was so inhumanely fast, or that his flat forehand left opponents scratching their heads. Roddick, like his American predecessor John McEnroe, effectively incorporated anger into his serve and groundstrokes, creating a feared and respected identity. In contrast, Murray’s anger is dissociated from his skill set—it rarely, if ever, raises his game to a new level. The ability to effectively employ anger not only commands respect, but also reflects an understanding of how emotions can translate into a competitive advantage.
For many in the sports world, respect is achieved through pure dominance, which takes the form of wire-to-wire leads (think Jordan Spieth) or exhilarating comebacks (think Rafael Nadal). Additionally, respect is engrained in the concept of charismatic leadership—playing a sport in a fashion that encourages millions of children to view the game in a different way. The purpose of this article is to offer a novel perception of respect in sports: at a subconscious level, we associate respect with playing identity. Millions of young Britons don’t want to be Andy Murray; they want to win Wimbledon. Quite differently, millions of young Americans dream of being Andy Roddick; not as much for his 2003 U.S. Open title, but because he created his legacy through a vicious serve and forehand.
Let me be very clear: Andy Murray has enjoyed a better career than Andy Roddick. But as long as Murray continues to let his emotions reign supreme and remain separate from his game, as opposed to corralling them into an effective game-plan, he’ll never receive the respect he deserves. Professional athletes pay considerable attention to their identity—grand slam records are meant to be broken, but identities last forever.