Famed American coach and ESPN analyst, Brad Gilbert, is notorious for the nicknames he has doled out to tennis players over the years. Some of them have been quirky enough to have tennis pundits and fans alike, raising their eyebrows as if to say “What did he just say?” Like them or not, BG as he is fondly called, continues to use these random and wacky monikers to address tennis’s finest. Believe it or not, they eventually stick.
Perhaps the most appropriate nickname Brad Gilbert has invented is “Muzzard”, given to Scottish tennis player, Andy Murray. One look at the gifted baseline retriever and you’ll get a sense of why Muzzard so aptly captures his essence. He cuts a very different appearance from the other members of the iconic Big Four. Where Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic project a certain champion’s aura about them that is unmistakable, Murray could easily pass off for the common journey man player on tour. His shaggy – unkempt – hair and beard, occasional baseball cap and unassuming demeanor bestow on him an overbearing sense of normalcy. If you are a first time tennis watcher, you might be forgiven for mentally writing him off as the loser, when he walks onto a court. That perception will probably persist through the pre-match warm up, and then self implode by the end of the first rally.
Andy Murray is after all, a three time Grand Slam champion, twelve time ATP Masters 1000 champion, two time Olympic gold medalist, and a Davis Cup champion. Those are staggering career accomplishments by any stretch of the imagination. So why hasn’t Great Britain’s finest gotten more of the public acknowledgement that he deserves. Part of the reason for this strange phenomena is Murray’s earlier mentioned unassuming nature. The other major reason, is the company he keeps at the highest echelons of the game. Consider this: The third most successful grand slam winner of the big four – Novak Djokovic – has a staggering twelve grand slams. That is exactly four times larger than Murray’s current total. The trio of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, represent an almost unattainable level of excellence that is lost on many. There are a whooping 43 grand slam titles between those three and they have held the world number one ranking, a combined 657 weeks. Convert those weeks to years, and that’s a flat out stupendous twelve and a half years of dominance.
Andy Murray has yet to claim the world number one ranking, for even a day. The highest he’s gone is world number two. This last tidbit of information, puts his accomplishments in a different perspective entirely. Murray has had to go up against arguably three contenders – with varying degrees of legitimacy – for the elusive Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) title, in order to become the greatest British player since the Fred Perry. This feat, hasn’t at all been easy. Where Federer wins with classic – eternal beauty, Nadal with unbridled power, and Djokovic with machine like efficiency, Murray has learned how to win with a lot of heart. In a sense, this has made him the most human, most relatable champion of the lot. He isn’t a lock, week in, week out. His game can reach dizzying heights at its best and plunge sharply downwards at its lowest too. You can clearly see the frustration, the struggle and the fight in him. There is no poker face when it comes to Murray, and the joy of his victories are just as evidently overwhelming to him as they would be to any of us in our day to day lives. Maybe that has hampered his iconic status a bit. He leaves his heart out for us to see and to the tennis fan, it isn’t all that different from theirs.
This year has been perhaps, Murray’s best on tour. He appears to have found a lasting balance within himself, and that has freed him up to play some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play. That form has carried through to this year’s U.S Open, where suddenly, he finds himself with a bulls-eye on his back. It hasn’t appeared to faze the Scot though. He still retains his aura of normalcy, and that is to be celebrated. Where the rest of the big four have inspired thoughts that you have to be extraordinary to achieve the sublime, Murray inspires hope that ordinary people can produce a fair bit of magic every once in a while.