Monday, July 09, 2012

Andy Murray - Predator or Prey?

Andy Murray ought to do himself a favour and give up tennis. It doesn’t suit him.

Murray won a lot of admirers when he openly wept in front of millions when interviewed by Sue Barker after Roger Federer beat him in the Men’s Final at Wimbledon yesterday. Murray has a reputation as something of a boor; to see him so vulnerable presented another side to him. The problem is that it’s a side that proves he will never be big time in professional sports.

Murray is big and strong and is doing all he can to be as good at tennis as he can possibly be. But he’s not as naturally gifted as Federer – very few are. To bridge that gap, he has to make up in application what he lacks in gifts.

Roy Keane is the perfect example of making up in application what he lacked in gifts. Keane was able to focus all his strength and will to the task at hand. Players who were more talented but less determined wilted when they realised in their hearts that they would never want to win as badly as Keane did. That’s what made Roy Keane a champion.

Michael Jordan was considerably more gifted as a basketball player than Keane was as a soccer player but, like Keane, it was Jordan’s competitive fury that brought him from great to transcendental. In his speech on the occasion of his induction into the NBA Hall of Fame, Jordan listed all the slights he felt he’d received as a player. They all still burned him, ten years after he hung up his Nikes for the final time.

Murray can’t match Federer for talent, but neither can he bridge the gap with mental resolve, as Keane or Jordan did. It’s not in him. Murray will gain kudos for being a man who openly expressed his emotion rather than bottling it up, but what exactly was he crying over?

If he was crying because he felt sorry for himself, because he realised that he will never be as good as Federer, because expectations have been placed on him from a young age that he feels he cannot possibly deliver, then the best thing he could do for himself would be to walk away. Life is tough enough to live by your own lights. Why crush yourself for someone else’s?

Maybe yesterday was a Rubicon for Andy Murray. Maybe Murray's sluiced it all out and will return a harder, steelier man. But if it wasn’t, if Andy Murray’s tears are an indication of what competing at the highest level is doing to him, he ought to walk away. He broke down after he lost to Federer in Australia two years ago too. He needs to address this.

Bobby Riggs is famous for his Battle of the Sexes match against Billie Jean King, but he has three Grand Slam titles to his name (one Wimbledon, two US Opens). Riggs's chief talent was his brain – he was able to win by playing his opponent for a sucker.

If Bobby Riggs were alive today, he would be on the phone to Andy Murray this very morning to bet Murray one gazillion dollars that Riggs could beat him using frying pans for racquets. And Riggs would collect his bet, because in Murray Riggs would see someone whom he could mentally crush like a bug.

In competitive sports, you are predator or you are prey. Andy Murray should decide, for his own sake and not that of Ivan Lendl or his mother or Simon Fuller, which he is and make the appropriate decision. He’s only twenty-five years old. He has his whole life to live. Who needs the grief?