Murray out: When will the British media learn?

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles   

This morning Andy Murray crashed out of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Murray was unable to find any consistency throughout the match and ultimately Fernando Verdasco made him pay winning in 5 sets.

It ended the Scotsman’s hope of winning his first Grand Slam.

After a fantastic end to 2008, and an unbeaten start to 2009 – enjoying wins over Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal – the prospect of a British tennis player winning a Grand Slam for the first time in 20 odd years looked very promising.

In the build up to the Australian Open, the British media had been in a frenzy. Yes, Murray had a very good chance of winning his first Slam. But the press built up his chances, and for me, it seemed inevitable with all the hype, that the pressure would get to Murray and he would fall short of picking up the ‘Norman Brookes’ cup.

As an avid fan of British and Irish sport, I of course wanted Murray to succeed. I have followed his career, ever since he burst onto the scene with his performance at Wimbledon in 2005, reaching round three before falling to David Nalbandian. Following his heroics at Wimbledon, Murray has had to endure the immense pressure that being a good British tennis player brings.

It’s an all too familiar story where British sport is concerned. There are many examples we can examine. The England football team is the subject of media hype that is unheard of in other countries. In 2006, England were tipped as winners of the World Cup. Not by the International media and pundits, but by the English press.

David Beckham, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, and Michael Owen all part of the perceived
‘Golden Generation’. The weight of the expectation from the English media and public proved too heavy a burden for the players.

England failed miserably. Not only did they fail to bring the World Cup home, but their performances were nothing short of dismal at the tournament. They played like a team under immense pressure and were to negative in their approach to games they should have won at a canter. They were a team more afraid of making mistakes then going out and just playing the football that they knew they were capable of.

In the 2007 Rugby World cup in France, the Irish media predicted that Eddie O’Sullivan and his players were on the verge of greatness. The squad was bulging with talent. Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’ Connell, and Ronan O’Gara were among the best players in Europe.

But like the English football team, they were unable to handle the pressure. They didn’t make it past the group stages after slumping to defeat against the Argentinians. In truth O’Sullivan’s men were unable to find their best form and looked extremely nervous from the first kick of the opening game.

Of course Tim Henman had to endure the burden of media focus and expectation throughout all his of his career. As soon as the Stella Artois began at Queens, the whole of the UK entered into a ‘Henman frenzy’! A frenzy that was created and driven by the media. With the football season over, there were no other distractions for the media. All the cameras were on Tim.

‘Henman Hill’ would be packed, Centre Court awash with shouts of “come on Tim!”. Everyone was asking the same question: ‘Is this the year Henman does it?’. It’s no wonder the poor man never succeeded in brightening up the frequently dull British summer. The weight of the hopes and dreams of an entire nation is too much for one man to bear.

Year after year he would come agonisingly close. In 2001, he was on the verge of making the final, winning the third set against Goran Ivanisevic, 6-0, and needing only one more set to clinch his place in the final. The rain intervened. Everybody thought he would come back the next day and get the job done.

He went on to lose 3 sets to 2. He missed easy shots in the final set and it was obvious the pressure had affected him. Arguably Henman is the best example of how media pressure can have such a negative effect. This mistake should not be made with Andy Murray. The court can be a lonely place for a tennis player when things go wrong. They don’t have the comfort of eleven or fourteen other men who can carry you through.

Britain has a truly talented sports star, who in the future I am certain will go on to achieve many accolades in the sport, including possibly a Grand Slam title. But the media need to allow Murray to develop without criticising his every failure and flaw.

We need to remember after all Andy Murray is only 21.

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