Why Andy Murray leading GB to glory is the greatest British sporting achievement
For commitment, leadership and sheer sporting brilliance, Andy Murray’s achievement in guiding his team to Davis Cup glory is the best of British, writes Kevin Coulson.
Andy Murray clambered out from beneath the pile of team-mates that had just enveloped him on the clay court designed to be his undoing.
The world No 2 had just won the Davis Cup in the most majestic fashion possible - with a delicate lob following three hours of punishing groundstrokes and serves.
He ran to the Belgians who had plotted to bring him down, along with his Great Britain team, and hugged the defeated David Goffin in front of the crowd that had barracked him for three days straight.
A touch of class to match the touch of quality on court.
And it was fitting that the 28-year-old clinched the crucial point to bring Britain's first title in this competition in 79 years.
He's the first Briton to have won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. And now he has led his team, like Perry did in the same year, to Davis Cup glory as well.
The symmetry doesn't end there, either. Belgium last made the final in 1904 before they were soundly beaten by, you guessed it, Britain, in a 5-0 defeat.
But enough of the history lesson and the coincidences. This victory was achieved through sheer guts and hard graft from Leon Smith and his charges, not because the stars were aligned.
And it’s been done over five years – longer than an Olympic cycle – where Murray has dragged the team from the depths of the third division of the competition and matches in Eastbourne, to the pinnacle of the world game.
He has not done it alone. There has been some remarkable, and crucial, victories from other team members along the way – the most notable being James Ward’s win over America’s John Isner in the 3-2 first-round triumph this year.
Murray’s brother Jamie has also been by his side in the last three doubles matches – giving the younger sibling an 11-0 total of matches won on the road to glory. Only John McEnroe has more (12 in 1982). So the support cast has been superb, led by Smith, and yet Murray has had also had a hand in that. He has been the team’s talisman in the truest sense of the word – he makes those around him play better, simply with his presence.
The young players look up to him and copy his work ethic – Ward spent an off-season training in Miami with the man he called “the beast” – and Murray gives them advice and some of the shrewdest tactical thoughts on the tour.
Every test that has been set, has been passed. The Scot has performed on all surfaces this campaign, playing across three days in all but one tie – for the most part straight after Grand Slams where he frequently lasts until at least the final four. His physical dedication knows no bounds – this is a man who has turned to Bikram yoga and facets of ballet to try to get and gain the slightest edge.
Even the clay that was put down in Ghent was supposed to suit the Belgian team better, and keep Murray on court for longer. He lost one set of 10.
Not even a boisterous and relentless crowd, with frequent interruptions during the ball toss of his serve, could keep him quiet. Although Murray was deducted a point for an obscenity at one stage in the tie – he generally responded with an ace, or at least a win in the point that followed.
Perhaps when he was pointing to his head against Goffin after thumping another winner, it was his mental strength he was referring to, for that is also supreme when playing for Britain. Murray was simply unstoppable on Sunday, the Belgians admitted as much. “If you see Andy today, there was for us nothing more to do,” said captain Johan Van Herck. "We gave it everything, but he was just a better player.”
So, when it comes to the question of earning a knighthood, that is a no-brainer. Nobody has done more for the sport in Britain in 79 years than the Glasgow-born battler.
Great Britain's Jamie Murray, James Ward, Kyle Edmund, Andy Murray and captain Leon Smith celebrate with the trophy after winning the Davis CupReuters
But what of the ranking of Murray’s endeavours in terms of British achievements? Smith did his best to answer that one. “It has to be one of the best achievements of all time," he said.
"It's incredible for all of us to watch how he's managed to win that many rubbers, that many wins, especially when you look back at the tie in France and also the Australia match, obviously a lot of fatigue, managed to find a way through. It was absolutely incredible, amazing.”
It is possible to go one step further though. The debate will rage about this for a while to come, but in terms of longevity, commitment and also inspiring - and at times carrying - a team and a nation, Murray is top of the pile, not bottom, like on Sunday in Ghent.