And Murray may have continued to hold the British public in the palm of his hand by winning Wimbledon in 2013, though that was just the start. A BBC documentary revealed more of the man himself, and a nation supported him all the way to the Sports Personality of the Year title.
Yet Murray, before leaving the stage this autumn for back surgery, helped to turn the spotlight on another success story in British tennis: its doubles.
Many already knew that his friend, Ross Hutchins, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the end of 2012, but Murray spread the word with a widely-broadcast fundraiser at Queen’s for the hospital, the Royal Marsden, that was treating Hutchins.
In August, Murray joined forces with Hutchins’ doubles partner, Colin Fleming, to reach the final of the Montreal Masters—and did so again in September to seal a place in the Davis Cup World Group.
Now in remission and with six months recuperation under his belt, Hutchins is back playing with Fleming, and the duo already has two matches under its belt and a place in the Australian Open draw.
Murray’s success in the summer of 2012 came hot on the heels of another British headline. Jonathan Marray, with Dane Frederik Nielsen, took the Wimbledon doubles title. The wait for a British men’s doubles champion at the All England Club had been as long as the wait for a men’s singles champion, both dating back to 1936—and it was Marray ended the wait first.
It was Marray who went on, in Hutchins’ absence, to join Fleming for most of 2013, and reached the US Open quarter-finals. In Melbourne, Marray has joined up with Australian doubles expert, Paul Hanley, but they meet the top seeds, the Bryan brothers, in the first round.
There are also, however, two seeded Britons in Australia. The first, Andy’s brother Jamie Murray, formed a new and successful partnership with John Peers early last year, and their wins came swiftly: the Houston title in April; the Nottingham Challenger title in June; then on grass, the quarters at Queen’s and semis at Eastbourne.
Next came a clay title at Gstaad, the quarters at the US Open, the title in Bangkok, and the final in Tokyo.
Murray talked in The Independent at the end of the year of the importance of continuity:
“Every time you turn up at a tournament, there’s that calmness there because you’re playing with the same guy, you know what each person’s about on the court, what they’re trying to do, their strengths and weaknesses, what we need to do to perform… It’s exciting.”
The pair reached the semis in Brisbane and are seeded 15 in Melbourne—but are scheduled to meet the Bryans—or Marray and Hanley!—in the third round.
Another Briton, Dominic Inglot, has found a similar stability, and results, with Philippine Treat Huey.
Having won Washington and reached the Basel final in 2012, this pairing also made it to the 2013 US Open quarters, went on to reach the finals in St Petersburg, the semis of Tokyo and finally the Basel title, reaching No11 in the race to the ATP World Tour Finals.
Inglot told The Sport Review after their win: “When I was in college, I had foot surgery, I had shoulder surgery, then after one year I had ankle surgery and then knee surgery, because I had a terrible accident on court. Milos Gialecic [their physical trainer since 2011], who’s started travelling with us, has really looked after us. He’s honestly one of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to stay healthy.”
But as well as the professional discipline, he too highlighted the ‘fun’ factor:
“We play well together because we’re good friends, hang out a lot. We went to college together for three years…and we practised a lot of doubles together. We get along pretty well… it’s fun practising with him, we have fun playing on the court, and it’s always a good thing when you’re enjoying it.”
They have played two closely contested quarter-final matches this season already, and are seeded 12 in Australia.
But the Melbourne tennis gods have had some fun with all these British hopefuls. All five of them, all four teams, have been drawn in the top quarter, so not only do they have the Bryans to contend with but the hugely successful Bopanna-Qureshi pairing.
As if that was not enough, the draw threw one of the most charismatic—and unforeseen—wild cards into the very same quarter: Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter.
Hewitt, two-time Grand Slam winner, now a family man of 32 and the home nation’s darling, revealed that he had for some time been courting one of the most popular characters ever to wield a tennis racket, but in typical Aussie style, made light of the venture:
“I hope I don’t have to carry him too much! I actually asked him a little while ago: He still hits a little bit at Davis Cup ties… Hopefully I’m still in the singles, but on my off days, go out and play dubs with Pat. He’s hitting the ball well enough. Beat Ivanisevic and Henman and those guys over in the Seniors tour.”
Rafter, now 41, last played a main tour singles match 13 years ago, and freely admitted: “I’ll definitely be the worst player in the competition.”
Nevertheless the charming serve-and-volley exponent won the US Open in 1997 and 1998, reached the Wimbledon finals in 2000 and 2001, went on to win the men’s doubles in London the year after. He was in the top five for almost two years, peaking at No1 in July 1999. As Hewitt rightly pointed out, he also left the competition standing to take the Statoil Masters trophy at the Albert Hall in December. Tim Henman said afterwards: “Pat’s playing fantastically well. Every match this week he’s shown he’s been the best player here. He’s serving unbelievable…his consistent level is very impressive.”
Rafter, though, intends to be guided by Hewitt: “We’re in the draw, but it will all depend on how [Lleyton] goes. It’s really important for him to play great singles. That’s what it’s all about…He gets through the first singles, feels comfortable, feeling he might want to play, it’s whatever Lleyton wants.”
Hewitt comes into his 18th consecutive Australian Open in fine form, having last week beaten Kei Nishikori and Roger Federer to win his first title in four years in Brisbane.
Only 18 months ago, sidelined for the nth time after surgery, he was ranked outside the top 200 and is now at 43. He has very real ambitions in the singles tournament, and quite rightly wanted to keep the mood around his doubles decision light-hearted:
“I think [Pat] still thinks he’s got it in him, [but] it’s just a bit of fun…it’s a bit of fun.”
Fun it may be, but the duo will be by far the biggest draw in the men’s doubles, and as they play an unseeded pair in the first round, they could meet Murray and Peers in the second. Should they win that won, it will be the Bryans—or possibly Marray and Hanley.
Come the quarters… well who knows, but one thing’s for sure. After the thrashing that England took in the Ashes, the Britons will hope they don’t end up facing the Aussie poster boys in the Rod Laver arena.
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