Peter Ross: An open love letter to Andy Murray

The National, by Peter Ross
13.01.19

Thank you. Thank you for all the great games, the bitten nails and the holy grails – those three grand slams, those two Olympic golds, that Davis Cup. Thanks for the dreams come true that we were so lucky to share.

The day you won Wimbledon for the first time was one of the happiest of my life. It came after one of the saddest. My dad had died the summer before. He would have loved to have seen you win. I hope he did.

I grew up watching tennis with my dad. We moved around a lot, but tennis on the telly was a constant. Stirling, GlasgowAberdeen, Alloa. Borg, McEnroe, Becker, Sampras, Federer. All those great champions and none of them British, much less Scottish. Then you came along. I remember your breakthrough at Wimbledon in 2005. My dad phoned me, excited: “Who’s this lad? He looks like he could do something.”

You certainly did.

It got so I could mark out the major events of my adult life by how well or badly you were doing. When you were a teenager with potential, I was a new father, staying up late with the wee one to follow your matches in America and Australia.

In 2012, when you won the US Open and Olympics, I took my sons to see you parade through the streets of your home town. I wanted them to understand that this was history, that they were lucky to be growing up at a time when you were playing and winning. Fred Perry, for me, was a story in a book. Andy Murray, for them, was real. You were standing in front of them in Dunblane in the rain, a saltire around your shoulders, signing their tennis balls. The signatures might fade. Your achievement never will.

The following year, when you won Wimbledon, I remember falling to my knees in tears; I was so happy and relieved, but also upset that my dad hadn’t lived to see it. My boys did, though, and that is important to me.

That’s the personal side, but you have been so important to the whole of Scotland. You have been a healing force, associating the name “Dunblane” with something beautiful. Also, for those of us who have lived with a feeling that Scotland is a nation of failure – sporting, political and otherwise – your success has been important psychologically and emotionally. You send a message: we can still do things. We have watched you grow up, and you helped us grow stronger.

Let me tell you about that. I wrote on Twitter that you are a hero of mine. Folk wrote back to tell me they felt the same. They were crying at the news of your retirement. They had shared your joys and now shared your pain. The idea that you represent some sort of underdog spirit is not quite sufficient. People felt that they saw in your suffering something of their own, and in your victories a wee bit of hope. “Unlike Federer, who just seemed to have it so easy,” one woman wrote, “Andy was the guy for the people (most of us) who have things a bit shit; who sometimes win, but very often lose.”

Is that what it is? You’re a winner for losers? Maybe. Or a bit more complicated than that. What became clear, as you got older, was that you’re not just a great athlete, but a great person. You always seemed a bit wounded, injured at some deep level beyond the reach of physio and surgery. That might be to do with your childhood experience, your survival of the horror, or it might just be who you are. Either way, I’d say it gives you empathy, means your emotions aren’t far below your skin. Your feminism and every other bit of decency for which you’ve been praised stems, I feel, from that essential compassion. Maybe you’d have won more if you’d been tougher. Maybe you’d have lost something too.

I felt terribly sorry for you at your press conference, as you announced that the Australian Open might be your last tournament. You want to play tennis. We want you to play tennis. But even if you never serve another ball, you’ve done enough. For us in Scotland this has been more than admiration for a sportsman. It has been something like love.

Andy, we have never spoken, and you have no idea what you mean to me. But I hope you know what you mean to us.

Peter Ross