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A Hero’s Homecoming

DEUCE

Murray© Getty ImagesBritish No. 1 Andy Murray backed up his gold-medal winning triumph at the London 2012 Olympics by winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.

Andy Murray is playing a tournament in Britain for the first time since his victory at the US Open. As Paul Newman, the tennis correspondent for The Independent, writes, Murray has been thrilled by the support he has had this year.
 
When Fred Perry, the last-but-one British man to win the US Open, played his first tournament back in his home country he was shunned by the tennis establishment, who had disapproved of his subsequent decision to turn professional. When Andy Murray arrives in London for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, just two months after following in Perry’s footsteps by winning in New York, he is assured of a very different reception.

Some sections of the British public may have taken time to warm to Murray, whose on-court demeanour was not always to their liking, but the 25-year-old Scot’s magical summer has changed all that. Murray’s tears after his defeat to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final touched even the most hard-hearted of doubters, and four weeks later, he rode a wave of national passion to win Olympic gold. Within another five weeks he had ended Britain’s 76-year wait for a male Grand Slam singles champion by winning the US Open.

“It does help when you have more support”

Murray was playing in the US Open final on the day of the victory parade in London for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Although he made a triumphant return to Dunblane six days later (an estimated crowd of 15,000, twice the population of his home town, turned out to welcome him), this week offers the first chance for the British public at large to show their appreciation for his achievements this year. Following his experiences this summer, Murray had been excited about playing in front of a home crowd again. “After Wimbledon, even though I lost the final, the support I got afterwards was something I wasn’t really used to and it definitely helped me at the Olympics,” he said. “The atmosphere at the matches was just great. It does help when you have more support – and I hope I can keep winning.”

Murray, who has qualified for the season finale for the fifth year in a row, has played in all three previous tournaments at The O2. “It’s a great venue to play in and it’s really fun for all of the players, though it’s also one of the toughest tournaments to win,” he said. “It’s a great event.”

What a contrast the week will be to Perry’s experience in May 1937, when the champion of New York returned to Britain eight months after winning the last of his eight Grand Slam singles titles. Because he had turned professional, the exhibition matches Perry played that summer had to be staged at temporary venues such as Wembley Arena, Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall and Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, rather than at the tennis clubs where he had enjoyed so much success as an amateur. The public, nevertheless, turned out in large numbers to watch the US Open champion, as they will again this week. Murray has always insisted that whatever pressures there might be when playing in front of his own fans, he loves the experience. He has made the semi-finals or better for the last four years in a row at Wimbledon, where he won Olympic gold this summer, and has twice won the title at the AEGON Championships. He has also played 12 Davis Cup singles rubbers on home soil and won them all.

MurrayNow comes the chance to cap the best year of his career with victory at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Murray has twice reached the semi-finals, losing to Nikolay Davydenko in 2008 and to Rafael Nadal in a memorable three-hour marathon in 2010, but suffered disappointment last year, when a groin injury forced him to withdraw after losing his opening match against David Ferrer.

Twelve months on, the plus side of that setback is that this week offers an outstanding chance to bank a large number of South African Airways ATP Rankings points. With a Grand Slam trophy and an Olympic gold medal already in his trophy cabinet, Murray now has his eyes on the No. 1 ranking. “I think the end of this year, with the Tour Finals, and the beginning of next year are really where it’s most important that I play well,” Murray said as he contemplated the challenge of becoming the first British ATP World No. 1 since the rankings were introduced 39 years ago.

Reaching that goal would see Murray emulate another of the achievements of his coach, Ivan Lendl, who has made such a difference to the Scot this year. Like Lendl, Murray won his first Grand Slam title in his fifth final. Lendl went on to win seven more Grand Slam titles, spent 270 weeks at the top of the world rankings and won the year-end title five times.

Murray is determined to build on his Grand Slam breakthrough. “I want to keep improving, I want to keep trying to win,” he said. “I know how good it feels to win a Grand Slam and to win the Olympics, and I know how hard it was losing the Wimbledon final. You want to try to win those big matches and big tournaments - and I’m going to work hard to try to do it again.”  

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