That was the question one of my British tweeps, one of the most avid Andy fans, put on twitter after Murray’s first round Cincinnati match against Lucas Pouille. She’d had to work and missed the match, the topsy-turvy scoreline (6-1, 1-6, 6-4 Pouille), and wanted a report. So I reported.
But that question has been bugging me ever since. There’s a weird and lovely element of fandom where we take daily measure of our favorites. And in the question “How did Andy play today” is the implied, is his hip okay. Did his hand find it after every point as it did before his surgery. Did he grimace. Did his movement belie lingering concern of re-injury. Will he be able to continue playing tennis. At all.
This is my tenth anniversary of the first time I came to Cincinnati. I’d never been to a tennis tournament before. At the time I was a staunch Federer fan (stop that gasping–yes). I’d seen the 2005 Australian Open semifinal between Federer and Safin and emerged a fan of both, and of tennis. I’d never watched tennis before that, but I was stuck at home nursing a month-old baby so would watch anything. Three years later I took that toddler and my husband to Cincinnati, the nearest Masters tournament to our town, so that I could glimpse the phenom that was Roger up close.
I had figured out the practice schedule and went an hour early so I could get a good view of Fed. But I had underestimated the ardor of Federer fans. I couldn’t get near the court. So I positioned myself one court away, but where I could peer through multiple chain link fences to gain a glimpse of my prize.
To my immense irritation, a scrawny kid and his team took the near court just as Federer came out, obscuring my view.
Note the total dorkiness. He didn’t pick up a racket. Instead, he and his coach (Miles MacLagen) started a game of footie.
Note the crowd behind them. None of them are looking. They’re all watching Federer who was putting on a masterful display of, well, Federerness. I did get some photos from far away as Fed went through his business-like routine and then courteously, almost heroically, signed a zillion autographs.
But watching the contrast between Federer and this skinny kid, something struck me and stayed with me. This kid just radiated joy. Radiated it. And as a relatively new mother, joy was a quality I had come to recognize and value. It’s exactly what you want to see in your child’s face. And my little toddler did not disappoint in that department.
I watched Murray leave the court. A young boy stepped in his path unawares and he tripped around him with a quick and pleasant “no worries.” He attracted no attention that year. No security forces attended his movements. Meanwhile, Djokovic could barely walk five feet without his progress being halted by adoration.
As we now know, Murray would go on to win Cincinnati that year, his first Majors title. His ranking would soar from 12 to 4. The next year, he would overtake Nadal and reach number 2. And you know the rest. With that fame came the scorching white glare of the British press. Will he reach number one? Will he end the Wimbledon drought? Does this Scott secretly hate England?
At least in public, Andy Murray acquired his unshakable reputation as the dour Scott. The moper. Mr. Buzzkill.
I knew better because I had seen him before. And so had a handful of others on my twitter timeline–fans who’d been following him since before I knew his name, now gathering under the hashtag #teamhotmess to cheer Murray on through the ups and downs, and to defend him from the onslaught of bad press.
It was one of those tweeps who asked on twitter that question, “How did Andy play today?” Here’s one answer to that question. Horrible. The first set was horrible. Andy couldn’t seem to move, hit, or serve. But in the next set, the brilliance showed. Unfortunately, in the third set, so did the rust, and he lost to Pouille, a man he should have beaten.
But that’s not the correct answer to that question. The correct answer is, who cares. This is Murray’s fourth match on hard court since he took eight months off to repair and rehab his long-nagging hip. He’s ranked 375 in the world, he’s 31 years old, he has nothing to prove except to himself and he’s still trying to prove it (he f-bombed himself continually except when he fist-pumped himself for pulling off a point). And, you know, he played a pro match on hard court and his hip didn’t fall out.
We need to stop asking how Andy is playing “today.” It’s hard to give up the hyper-vigilant fretting, the armchair diagnosing, the micro-expression reading. All that made us great and stalwart Andy fans, but it’s not the best way, I decided at least for myself, to be an Andy fan in 2018.
It’s time to simply appreciate. To take the long view, both forward and backward. As a parent, I’ve found the hardest thing is to recognize when your child has changed. And then to also change. I’ve been thinking a lot about this because the son I took to Cincinnati a decade ago is now taller than me, shaving, and looks like this:
We can’t predict the future. And while we think we can imagine a trajectory for a player based on past performance–indeed many try to make money off it–no one really can. We love the game today. Our favs are playing today. Let’s not ask “how” as often. Let’s just marvel that they do.