It's one man's Wimbledon
This year I have been privileged to attend Wimbledon as a journalist and a sports fan.
Working for international broadcaster Al Jazeera English has given me the opportunity to come at the tournament from a different perspective to national media. While many are off chasing their home hopes, I have been hunting down players from all over the world.
Over the last two weeks I have spoken to men and women from Latvia, Bulgaria, Japan, China, America, Taiwan and Thailand about their Wimbledon experiences. They all had two things in common: firstly their love of this special tournament and secondly their love of winning. You will not find a tennis player at Wimbledon who doesn’t one day want to be world number one. They don’t exist.
It’s been great learning about the different circumstances players come from – from those with thousands in the bank to others who need to win matches to afford their flight back home. Most players are rightly guarded when talking to the media – but I’ve discovered they are not scared to swear or have a laugh.
But while it is nice to cover a range of players form diverse backgrounds, as time has flown by, the presence of one man becomes harder to ignore. Impossible to ignore.
His presence hangs constantly over Wimbledon, whether he likes it or not.
It no longer does much good to approach Wimbledon from a global perspective - not when the national story becomes the main story.
Especially when right now hundreds of people wait patiently outside the All Lawn tennis club. People with a remote chance of entrance into the park and no chance of a ticket – people who want to sit (more likely stand) on a blade of grass to show their support, rather than watch it on TV. This doesn't often happen in the UK for an individual.
The big sports story, perhaps news story, of the day is Andy Murray playing Jerzy Janowicz in the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Turn on the TV in the UK and you will be greeted by Murray’s face or Centre Court.
Rationality cannot be used to explain why Andy Murray means so much to the British people both inside and outside Wimbledon park. He is just a very good tennis player... and yet, the park comes alive when he is in action and a sense of relief washes over it after he has won.
The calm, business-as-usual attitude Murray brings to proceedings echoes Wimbledon itself. Wimbledon and Murray share many similarities which go some way to explaining why he encapsulates the tournament.
Around Wimbledon there are people waiting to catch a glimpse of their hero on every corner – whether this is by the media area, players reception or on the practice courts. This is the man they hope will become the first British tennis player to win Wimbledon in nearly 80 years - since Fred Perry did in 1936.
But there’s another reason why he is so much loved – and that is his normality. His celebrity hangs on the tears he shed at last year’s final – when he lost out to Roger Federer – and the fact everyone could imagine having an Andy in their lives. Someone who is motivated by a pure love of sport and really wants to win the Wimbledon title for his nation.
Because it feels like Murray will not just be winning the title for himself, his mum, his girlfriend or his coaching team, he will be winning it for everyone who has ever cheered him on from Centre Court, Murray mound or in front of their TV screens over the last five years.
Many took a while to warm to Andy Murray and some will never like him. But if you enter Wimbledon and see the way kids beam when they talk about him, you’ll realise he has become important to sport. In a way not dissimilar to David Beckham. He has become more than a sportman, but an inspiration, a guy who has captured the public’s affection without trying to be someone he’s not.
To the British, particularly the Scottish, Wimbledon is now about one man. Everyone is thinking about, everyone is talking about Murray.
There were over 600 competitors at this year’s tournament but only one could create such a level of expectation, and dread.
Once again a nation holds its breath – but win or lose he has already delivered.
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website and reporting from the Wimbledon Championships.
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