Roger Federer yesterday earned his seventh Wimbledon men’s singles title, defeating Scotsman Andy Murray in four sets. It was an excellent match, if not an epic one, and the victory was well deserved by the man some believe is the greatest tennis player in history.
For me, though, the defining moment of the 2012 Championships came not during the match, but after, when runner-up Murray was handed the microphone for the customary remarks to the crowd. We’re used to gracious on these occasions, but Murray truly raised the bar for future finals losers. He struggled with his composure, then finally gained enough control to get off a wry joke: “I’m getting closer,” reference to the fact that he’s been in Grand Slam finals before but has never won. And this time, he’d taken the first set and was looking very much in it until Federer seized command in the third set. Murray continued to wrestle with his emotions – mostly a losing battle – while attempting to express his gratitude for his family and friends, his respect for Federer, and a heartfelt thanks for the fevered support of the British fans, who’ve been waiting for one of their own to win this tournament since 1936.
If we have grown cynical and weary of me-first divas and show-me-the-money prima donnas, we can certainly be forgiven. The sporting landscape is overrun with douchenozzles, a condition made even harder to stomach by the network marketing machines that thrive on them (yeah, ESPN, that was aimed at you). Cheating, whoring, thugging: forget basic sportsmanship or commitment or elementary self-awareness. Forget appreciating that when you’re being paid more money per year than most people will see in their lives that maybe you should, you know, shut the fuck up, work your ass off and in general just act thankful for the blind, insane luck you have enjoyed in life. That’s asking too much. These days if we’re reading about in the sports pages and not the crime blotter we put it in win column.
Sure, I’m emphasizing the worst cases, and sure, not all athletes are like this, but it’s not like you don’t recognize what I’m talking about, is it?
In this context, then, Andy Murray’s raw emotion this morning was refreshing. Yes, Murray leads a pretty good life. He plays a game he loves. He makes good money. He has a lovely girlfriend whose reactions as he spoke made clear how much she cares for him. So I’m not asking anyone to lose sleep over his ill fortune.
But I am asking you to take note, because today we saw an athelte who, for the moment, wasn’t concerned over the purse or his investment portfolio or partying all night or velvet ropes and bottle service or endorsement opportunities or his musical career or any of the other peripheral bullshit that for so many jocks these days seems to be as important as the actual sports they play. No, all that mattered to Andy Murray was that he had lost.
Yes, it was wonderful today, as badly as I felt for Murray, to see an athlete who cared about the game. He reminded me of…well, me. I’ve been utterly crushed by losses in freaking rec league competitions. I’m still haunted by a penalty kick I missed in 1993 that would potentially have won my team the league championship in the Winston-Salem Adult Soccer League. Those moments are as pure as they are utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. You get nothing for winning but a t-shirt, but millions of weekend warriors who play the game for no reason other than that they love the game know exactly what I’m talking about. And I’ll bet that they were watcing Murray today and empathizing, just like I was.
How many of us can empathize with Tiger Woods?
The fact that I even noticed Murray’s reaction and that I thought about it in these terms, that it struck me as different from what I’m used to seeing, says something about contemporary athletics that I wish didn’t need saying.
Image: The Guardian