FRANCESCA HILL asks what all the hype is about with Andy Murray.
Put down your Union Jacks. Step away from your Twitter. Wipe that face paint off your cheeks.
Most of us never watch any tennis outside this very unique two-week period once a year. So why do all but the most working-class of Brits go momentarily insane and pretend they’ve been swinging a racket continuously since the age of eighteen months?
I never understood Henmania. And I don’t get Murraymania either.
I’m sorry to have to break it to the many English people who are busy pretending desperately that he’s one of us, but Andy Murray is Scottish. And that’s probably how he sees himself, rather than British. British is one of those elusive concepts that conveniently appears and disappears depending on whether the English recognise we need to borrow some talent from elsewhere (no to football; yes to athletics; no to rugby; yes to tennis).
Andy Murray: man of the people or solitary Scot?
At this time of year, my mother starts spouting match statistics and comparing “tennis greats” from bygone eras. A friend who I find it hard to imagine even wearing trainers feels so strongly about Murray’s defeat that she is unfollowing anyone on Twitter who says a word against him. Everyone from Doctor Who to Sir Steve Redgrave is called upon to comment on a sport they freely admit to knowing nothing about (Why Sue? Why? What is this adding?) and Ed Miliband feels the need to congratulate Murray publicly on his performance to prove he’s in touch with the people.
Murray is a talented tennis player, few doubt that. He probably also deserves to win a grand slam, after a number of unfortunate defeats. But why does he inspire a kind of sycophantic hysteria that has not been seen since the death of Princess Diana?
I don’t think it’s patriotism. There are lots of sports out there, and few national representatives attract the same level of adoration. Terrestrial TV’s relative lack of interest in the other grand slams suggests that it’s not a love of tennis either.
The answer is reality television. A footballer will be on screen for a small proportion of a ninety-minute match. A tennis player can be watched continuously for hours as he battles with his demons, every sigh and smile analysed in great detail by a commentary box full of has-beens. We see his face with every point won and lost; a roller-coaster of human emotion that leaves Big Brother and Made in Chelsea languishing in the shade.
Tennis gives us triumph, humiliation, anger, sadness and joy. When the loser cries, we know what we are watching is far more real than any of the weekly screaming and sobbing on TOWIE.
Britain loves Andy Murray not because we love tennis, but because we love television.