Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Dawn of a New Era

When I first started writing this blog over a year ago, I never imagined that my last night in Melbourne would be spent at the Rod Laver Arena watching Andy Murray in the final of the Australian Open from a vantage point only a few seats away from Andy's player box. Dreams really do come true.

The story started at the semi - final in what was one of the most compelling games of tennis I have ever seen. My brother and his wife had a pair of tickets for the match but as they had a six week old son who was still breastfeeding, I was enlisted to play pass the baby in between sets. I watched from the screens outside the arena hoping that inside, no one was about to spit the dummy. I did get inside for the out of this world second set and the whirlwind fifth set where a frazzled Federer lay down at the hands of the Murray machine.

The night of the final was going to be my last night in Melbourne for quite some time. If there was ever a moment to try and achieve the impossible, the time was now. Chance favours the prepared mind, so they say, and in response to a tentative email, I was thrown a gauntlet of a challenge at 2 am after the semi that I had to accomplish by 9am the next day. If I could find Judy Murray a kilt for a 6"2, 32-34 inch male for the following afternoon (a whole other story), a golden ticket for the final would be my reward. I succeeded in my mission and Agent Gordon was duly rewarded by Mrs M.

Finals day loomed and with it the hopes and fears of a nation. Or at least that's what it felt like on entering Melbourne Park's Centre Court where the air was thick with Scottish accents. Had these ex pats bought tickets in advance with the expectation that Andy would be in the final? Or were they, like me, subscribers to the "where there's a will, there's a way" philosophy?

The crowd was a sea of saltires and blues and whites, of Jimmy hats and union jacks. It did seem that the tennis universe was with Andy that night and the shouts and cries from the crowd throughout the match served to confirm that.

It's difficult to explain what it felt like to be there. I was overwhelmed not only by the occasion but also by how lucky I was to be seated where I was. It was by far the best seat I have ever had at a match, not only to watch the tennis but also to observe at first hand the interaction between a player and his box, to experience the ebb and flow of the match through their eyes.

The overriding emotion I felt was tension. It seemed to me, as it often does with Andy's matches, that there was more than tennis at stake. Both Andy and Novak seemed on edge. Theirs is being hailed as the new rivalry in Men's tennis and it seemed at first that they were both feeling the weight of this new burden of expectation.

The first set tie break was a master class in tennis from Andy. He got every first serve in where Novak didn't get one. For those who like statistics, this seemed to suggest that Andy was the mentally stronger of the two although you can never take anything for granted with Djokovic.

And so it proved to be the case with Nole producing displays of defensiveness that belied belief. I have heard commentators say on many occasions that the best players in the world are often the best defenders and here were two of the best defenders in tennis battling for supremacy at the beginning of 2013.

It was not to be Murray's night. He seemed to struggle with blisters on his feet but, true professional that he is, he never gave up; it was just that Djokovic got better and better. I heard that after the match, Djokovic gave out chocolates at the press conference and left on a 3 am flight to get back to Europe as quickly as possible so that he could begin recovering and preparing for the Davis Cup. Is he a man or machine?

So where now for Andy? He played an incredible tournament and he has a steely glint in his eye and a belief in himself and his abilities that was evident not only against Federer but also in the final in spite of the result. Andre Agassi, commentating at the Australian Open this year, said that he thinks that 2013 will be "the year of the Murray".

I have to say that I couldn't agree more. What worries me now is not that Murray will have us all sitting at the edge of our seats in future finals wondering what if? What worries me is that we don't take the opportunity to capitalise on this new role model who embodies a self- belief and a 'can do' attitude that could transform not just the way we develop tennis in Scotland but also the collective mindset we have about ourselves as a nation.

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