Sports carry many different kinds of dramas into our lives. Athletic contests contain the drama of the championship chase, the battle for history, legacy and reputation.
Sports provide the pressure attached to expectations and hopes — of nations, of cities, of large communities, not to mention the athletes themselves.
Sports pose the immediate and urgent daily challenge of needing to win to get paid, especially in the solo-athlete sports such as tennis, but also in team sports where one-year contracts or temporary arrangements need to become multi-year deals. Professional athletes are trying to make a living in their chosen profession. Tennis players outside the top 150 are thrust into an urgent fight for a decent living each time they take the court.
Sir Andrew Barron Murray isn’t fighting those battles anymore — at least not centrally. He isn’t a serious championship contender. He isn’t carrying British (or Scottish) hopes at this Wimbledon the way he did through 2017, when he was a legitimate threat to go all the way. He isn’t playing for the paycheck or the need to solidify his financial future. He is set for life with his prize money and endorsements.
The sporting drama enveloping Andy Murray at Wimbledon 2021 is a profoundly human form of drama. It doesn’t focus on championships or handling pressure or making money. The drama of Murray’s quest at SW19 this summer is to simply see what he is capable of.
Why do human beings climb tall mountains, or surf massive waves, or swim for miles, or hurtle themselves through the atmosphere the way Felix Baumgartner did nine years ago?
They want to feel alive, not merely exist. They want to get their blood pumping and feel the rush of being immersed in a vital, exciting pursuit. They want to drink deeply from life’s cup, they want to soak up everything this earthly sojourn has to offer.
Pushing limits. Testing boundaries. Learning more about oneself and — in the process — gaining a fuller appreciation of what it means to be human and suffer all the sensations attached to this condition.
Andy Murray has a metal hip. He could have decided to pack it in and call it a day years ago. Yet, he won’t be able to play main-draw Wimbledon tennis in 10 years (or so we think). At age 34, he can still perform the basic mechanics of a professional tennis player at a respectable level.
Murray wants to let it ride and see where this last stretch of the journey takes him.
Tennis is poetic in that it is a warm-weather sport. When the weather gets cold, tennis moves indoors for autumn. In the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months, tennis is played in Australia and New Zealand. Yes, the nights in Indian Wells (a place the tours haven’t visited for two straight years due to the pandemic) can get cold, but as soon as the tours go to Miami, it’s warm-weather tennis for the next several months on the circuit.
Wimbledon can become a place for cold-weather tennis — and we have seen some players wear long-sleeves in this first week of damp, soggy conditions — but it is still a summer tournament which becomes truest to its nature when the sun peeks through the clouds as it did on Wednesday evening at the All-England Club.
In tennis — one could say — there are no Lions in Winter.
Andy Murray is the Lion in Summer, giving everything he has to tennis — and his fans, and most of all, himself — because this is what feeds him.
This is what he loves. This is what he wants.
Murray’s deep and abiding love of the game — the simple desire to stay on the path and see where it takes him — has brought tennis full circle with another memorable old-man moment.
In 1991, Jimmy Connors — having just turned 39 — reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in New York. The Open has long been known for late-night sessions, but night tennis is still relatively new to Wimbledon after the completion of a roof just over a decade ago. Murray has often been the main nighttime attraction, and at this 2021 Wimbledon, he has already played a few late shows. In this Wednesday match against Oscar Otte, Murray won a dramatic point late in the fifth set. He had to run wide of the doubles alley to win the point, so it was natural for him to simply turn to his left, face the crowd, and pump his fist.
That moment — a riveted night crowd roaring for a player who was completely invested in the match and in love with tennis at a comparatively older age, pushing the limits of what his body would allow him to do — elicited the Connors memory from his quarterfinal match against Paul Haarhuis:
Remember this from 1991 (if you were old enough to recall it)?
Murray became the late-night British Conners on Wednesday. He completed a 30-year circle and brought a classic Late Night vibe to Wimbledon. He also recalled Connors’ total love of the game, and the hunger to experience the primal and profoundly satisfying thrill of a massive challenge. He revived Connors’ appetite for battle. He summoned Jimbo’s joy of playing, the electric charge Connors gained from the roar of the crowd.
Jimmy Connors’ 1991 U.S. Open wasn’t about championships, expectations, or money. It was about the joy of being fully alive, and more precisely, the delight taken in pursuing a challenge not because anyone else was demanding it, but because the soul within wanted it badly.
Sir Andrew Barron Murray doesn’t have to meet or fulfill fans’ or pundits’ expectations of what he should achieve anymore. That part of his tennis story belongs to the past. Murray is drinking deeply from life’s cup on a tennis court because there’s no place he would rather be, nothing he would rather do. If he never makes another major quarterfinal but he keeps having fun winning these kinds of matches, who is to stop him or say it’s not the path he should choose?
This Lion in Summer will roar when — and how — he damn well pleases. If it’s enough for him, it’s enough for the world, at Wimbledon or anywhere else.