I have always been a great fan of professional tennis, partly out of admiration as I am a useless player myself. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s watching all of the big tournaments on the television and frequently visiting Wimbledon and Wembley Arena to watch the game played live. When I look back at the players that were my biggest heroes they all had one thing in common – none of them were British.
There was a very good reason why my idols were all foreign and that was the absence of any world-class British male players. There was John “Legs” Lloyd, of course, but he was never going to win a grand slam singles event. No, the tennis world was dominated by Americans and Eastern Europeans but at least it was a time when there were some real characters in the game.
My ultimate hero was the very badly behaved but incredibly entertaining John McEnroe. I first saw him play at Wimbledon in 1977 when he was just 18 and although he was only a qualifier that year you could see he was something special. I followed his career from that day onwards and personally witnessed several of his legendary outbursts including one at Wimbledon when he seemed to think it was unreasonable to stop the game even though it was pouring with rain. McEnroe went on to become one of the greatest players of all time and I am so grateful that I was often there to cheer him on.
Another favourite of mine was Ilie Năstase whose amazing sense of humour and on-court antics surpassed his playing ability but made him compulsive viewing. In addition to the characters of the game I was always blown away by the skills of Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Conners and the dynamics of the rivalries between the great star players of the era. It was also amazing how these men could be so volatile and yet still play the most incredible tennis.
For so long I reveled in the successes of McEnroe and admired the other great players but always wondered what it would be like to have a British player at the top of the game. Then I could really get behind them with patriotic fervour as well as admiration. Well I had a long wait! It wasn’t until the arrival of Tim Henman that a truly world-class player emerged in the British Game. There is no doubt that Henman was a very good player and he flirted with grand slam success a few times. I was on Centre Court when he played and lost his Wimbledon semi-final against Leyton Hewitt. You always live in Hope but somehow I always felt that Henman was just not quite good enough. Also as it was 2002 and we had not had a slam winner since Fred Perry in 1936 and so I wondered how long it was going to be before we had another player of any note.
As it turned out not too long! Andy Murray burst onto the scene in 2005 and quite early on it seemed to me that we had someone who could actually one day win a Grand Slam. Murray lacked the character of McEnroe and the flair of Năstase but he was British so I didn’t care that much. It was agony watching a series of near misses over the ensuing seasons until 2012 when finally Britain had a Grand Slam Champion with Murray winning the c in an absolutely epic match against Novak Djokovic.
How much did it matter to me that there was a British Champion? Quite a lot as it turns out but I have to say that it is McEnroe who is still my all-time tennis Hero. In the end heroes are about the man not just the player and Murray has a little way to go in that regard.
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