July 24, 2014

Andy Murray is so Cleveland

As a Clevelander, nestled in an overstuffed couch with a cup of coffee, fighting off that morning after feeling that follows a wedding reception on what would serve to be the hottest day (and night) of the entire summer, I found it very easy to openly root for Andy Murray. This, within an event to which I am completely indifferent. Wimbledon to me is about the spectacle; the shear beauty of the world’s best playing on the world’s biggest. But on this day, it was all Murray, all the time.

I’ve always been a big fan of the underdog and the under-discussed. I was the kid with the Cal Ripken affliction when everyone else was going crazy over Canseco and McGwire; more Magic than Michael; more Ultimate Warrior rope-shaking and face paint than Hulk Hogan air guitars, leg drops and hand-to-the-ear. With Murray, however, this wasn’t a case of a Cinderella making a run in one of the greatest sporting events in the world — the George Washingtons and Virginia Commonwealths don’t hold a match-lit candle to the just-turned 25-year-old Murray. With Murray, it was the feeling of understanding and the relation that I instantly felt to the large faction of people to whom this individual meant so much. Heroic and encased in celebrity, Murray made an entire nation embrace one another as one of their own was on the cusp of achieving a sport-related triumph that had not happened in almost 80 years. Swap any Cleveland-based team in for Murray, replace the Wimbledon Championship Trophy with any of the big three domestic versions1 and I would assume similar emotion and narrative. 

This is not to belittle Murray’s run and string of success. By no mean would I compare the city of Cleveland to an entire countryside, but when passion and a slew of history books filled with agony are added to the mix, the playing field undoubtedly flattens2.

Murray, despite hailing from Scotland, is a local hero in every sense. This specific narrative even stretched to the levels of one of those emotionally fueled little vignettes with Tom Rinaldi’s narration, this one as touching as all of the rest, every baseline sprint and forehand winner and perfectly executed angle was met with roaring applause. The Royal Family, inside of the Royal Box, looked upon as one of the commoners elevated his status closer to their own, one swing at a time. In the semifinals, Murray’s ability to battle back in the second-set tiebreaker — one which had he lost would have put him down two sets to none, subsequently providing a nearly impossibly high hurdle — was blue collar and lunch pail at it’s finest. The sweat and grime and determination of an occasionally quixotic and temperamental individual was simply beautiful.

The day-and-a-half that would bridge Murray’s win over David Ferrer and his chance at having his name enshrined forever on the Wimbledon green wall which houses winners of years past would understandably be heavy on emotion. Great stories are great stories, but once history is involved — especially one that is not-so fortunate as is the case with Murray3 — look out. Having attended every home playoff game during the Cavaliers’ run in 2007 and witnessing4 the manner in which the city of Cleveland was emotionally transformed — what with the “home town kid” leading his team to the promised land in what was just his fourth year in the league — it’s safe to assume that the the entire Gateway District would look very similar to the Henman Hill hill did on Sunday morning.

*****

When it was all said and done, and the buzz saw that is Roger Federer quickly took the wind of the sails that was a first-set victory for Murray, the 25-year-old received the best reception I’ve ever seen for a runner-up. With tears streaming down his face, having now lost his fourth Grand Slam finals match in as many chances, possessing the relative inability to even look in the direction of his coach, friends and family who were seated in center court’s corner, Murray told the crowd that he was “getting closer.” As Federer looked on, this was all essentially old hat to him. Arguably the greatest player to ever step foot on a court, the 30-year-old took home his seventh Wimbledon Championship. But his parade around the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club could wait. This was Andy’s moment.

In just four-and-a-half action-packed hours, Murray went from a kid bouncing through the hall — racket in hand — of the corridor which the players proceed through en route to the court, to one that was emotionally and physically drained, seated and staring up at the closed roof, attempting to regain his breath having given it his all for his country. In the third set alone, Murray fell several times, making a few thousand jaws drop, however temporarily5.

Following the match, as the officials were announced, a lone voice echoed through the otherwise silent court: “We love you, Andy!”

As Murray lifted his runner-up silver plate, the applause and whistles and cheers continued on. As Federer’s name was being forever embossed in gold on the forest green Roster of Champions, Murray was the one being interviewed at center court. He would get out nothing but an emotionally-fueled sigh before the thousands — including the likes of Kate and Pippa Middleton, David and Victoria Beckham — in attendance would continue on with their ovation.

“Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon and how tough it is,” said Murray, staring into the grass before him as to not make eye contact with anyone who could possibly drive more tears to the forefront. “It’s not. The people watching make it so much easier to play — the support has been incredible.”

Four grand slam finals. Four losses. Three of which are now to Roger Federer, an aging yet seemingly unrelenting nemesis. Elway in the 80s? Jordan or Edgar Renteria in the 90s? The Orlando Magic or Boston Celtics of the aughts? The proverbial carrot on the stick, as Murray edges closer, the big win is still out of his reach. At least for now.

After his emotional address, Murray was then forced to watch as Federer would get his time in the light, the world’s number one player, back on top for what appears to be a spot he does not plan on relinquishing any time soon. As ESPN’s Chris Fowler put best, “Murray may have lost the match, but he won countless hearts.”

Mine included.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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Footnotes:

  1. Commissioners, Larry O’Brien, Vince Lombardi…take your pick []
  2. And given the recent events at Chardon High School, it’s admittedly difficult to not conjure similar feelings when the topic of the Dunblane School Massacre arises []
  3. and English tennis, in this instance []
  4. no pun intended []
  5. A 20-minute game? Ten deuces?? Seriously??? []
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nobody remember second place and a great story rarely beats a greater athlete. I’d rather talk about women’s tennis. The grunting is something I can get behind!

  • mgbode

    Andy Murray is for GB everything we hoped Andy Roddick would have been for the USA. He hasn’t been able to clear that last hurdle, but he does his country proud.

  • MoreGolfLessWork

    off topic, but goodness gracious his neck looks long in that picture.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    As an aside, how disappointing is it that Roddick is the best American male tennis player? We get spoiled for years with Ashe, Connors, McEnroe, Sampras, and Agassi… then our best hope is a guy who rarely makes the quarterfinals of a grand slam. Not meant as a dig on Roddick because he’s still really good, but it’s disappointing that we don’t have an American in the hunt.

  • mgbode

    yeah, you’d think that all those prep-tennis players would give us a better supply of pro-tennis players

  • TribeAsh

    As a British tennis fan and a Browns, Indians and Cavs fan, I can whole-heartedly agree with this entire post! Good to hear you rooted for our boy (it’s true, we all love an underdog).

  • http://twitter.com/cboyes1987 Cory Boyes

    Andy Roddick isn’t the best American tennis player. Mardy Fish and John Isner have that illustrious title – and Bob Baker made it further than Roddick in this Wimbledon. I will grant you that Mardy Fish and John Isner pale in comparison to the height of American men’s tennis.

  • Jim

    I was actually in a pub in Oxford, England during the match, and felt like I was right at home in Cleveland while the Brits reacted to another heartbreaker

  • The Other Tim

    You know who’s Cleveland? Kyrie Irving rocking the #23 in this video.
    http://youtu.be/69bc_OOLIMM

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I don’t follow tennis very well, so I’m going to take your word for it. It just seemed to me that Roddick was our highest-finishing player at most of the grand slams that I half-payed attention to :)