As Andy Murray sobbed his way through a difficult media briefing in Melbourne, we all shed a tear for a young man who was not just announcing his retirement, but was marking the end of an era that changed all of our lives. For the best part of two decades the Scot has been more than a successful sportsman. His success, his attitude and his integrity have helped to redefine his country and being a modern man.
In an age of cynicism, his stuttering statement was met with a disappointed but sympathetic silence from a media pack that is no stranger to hostility and aggression. Instead of the usual volley of noisy and impatient questions, a respectful media offered a comforting shoulder and awaited his return from an enforced break to compose himself.
Murray’s struggle to speak was a metaphor for his agonies on court caused by his chronic hip injury and his ability to continue playing the sport he loves. Forgive the cliche, but he has also shared that love, introducing tennis to those who were hitherto uninterested. Not only was he individually responsible for this massive conversion rate, he turned them from sceptical observers that a British player could actually succeed in the sport, into doting addicts who followed his every move, both on and off the court.
He took the nation on an emotional rollercoaster, his early matches in particular seeing him snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, making his contests all the more thrilling to watch, and his triumphs providing even more to savour.
It is true that in his early days he was seen as a grumpy, mumbling tennis brat, his temper tantrums on court earning him a reputation as an unsporting teenage upstart. What we learned to love about Murray is that this was not the behaviour of a bad loser, but an expression of his will to be a winner. He set goals that some thought unachievable, fanciful even, and he picked them off one by one. There were tears in defeat at Wimbledon, but consolation and endorsement of his early promise when he won the US Open. It truly opened the doors to a clutch of other victories that will stand for all time.
Off court the British public learned to understand him and like him. His much-mimicked monotonic voice, which was interpreted as a characteristic of a droll, boring and personality-lite individual, became a symbol of his down-to-earth ordinariness that the British actually admire, and it concealed a sense of humour and willingness to share a joke even about himself.
In any case, the British don’t take to showy types who believe the world owes them a living. Murray was a boy who, with the help of his parents and those he’d grown up amongst, wanted to become a success in an honest way. Tennis was his passion and reaching the top was his goal. He didn’t let either himself or his supporters down.
His marriage to girlfriend Kim was treated like a Royal wedding, for Murray is tennis royalty, a worldwide superstar who, in a culture that throws up celebrities with no claim to any talent, has shown that a winning mentality and a track record of success is a mark of true global stature.
The scruffy, unkempt youth who growled and screamed at every lost point, evolved into a sporting matinee idol. As such he did something else: he helped change Scotland and its own view of masculinity. Drained by a chronic inferiority complex, it now had a serial winner. A country with a machismo culture built around heavy industry, the Old Firm, Glasgow’s mean streets and a steely sense of humour, began to show a softer, gentler side. Its heroes had always been tough tackling footballers and rugby players, boxers with faces as tough as galvanised iron, rock musicians who sang like a chain was dangling in their throats. Scotland was not a place for fey ping-pong players dressing up in tiny white shorts and plimsolls.
As the artist Grayson Perry writes in his book The Descent of Man , masculinity is in the dock, and the definition of what it is to be a man is changing. The image of the alpha male as chest-beating, domineering aggressor, is no longer apt in the #MeToo era. As with all modern tennis professionals, Murray developed a stamina and physique that defied the outdated image of the sport, but he also came to associate himself with the values of a modern era, speaking out against gender inequality and casual sexism.
He was also unafraid to show his emotions. While plenty of sportsmen have shed a tear at losing Murray’s sobs at Wimbledon took emotional outpouring to a new level. When he did, the whole nation cried with him. Moreover, he showed that you really can win and be a true man by playing a sport wearing white ankle socks.
There are now questions about what he will do after he plays that last top level match, a moment that may arrive as early as this week at the Australian Open, a tournament victory that eluded him. It was probably because he knew that he would never win it that he found his announcement on Thursday so much more painful.
Given his passion for the sport he is likely to coach – and joked during his recovery from hip surgery that he was available – and he is expected to help further his mother Judy’s ambitions in setting up a tennis centre. He has his own sports management company 77 Group, named after the day and month of his first Wimbledon triumph.
He is also an investor, particularly in areas of health, sport and wearable technology. In August 2015 joined the advisory board of the crowdfunding specialist Seedrs and pledged to invest £30m of his fortune into small firms. He took stakes in three companies: salad bar chain Tossed, 3D virtual reality company Trillenium and the FuelVentures Fund.
He later added Oppo Ice Cream; annual travel ticket subscription service CommuterClub; the UK’s fastest growing P2P lender Landbay; We Are Colony, a global film streaming platform founded by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Sarah Tierney; and Readbug, the ‘Netflix for Magazines’.
In October 2016 invested in Perkbox, the perks and benefits scheme, and WeSwap. the world’s first peer-to-peer travel money platform.
Explaining his motives, he said: “It’s important to me that I back people who I believe have the same dedication, hunger and professional standards as myself and always strive to be their best.”
It could be his personal mission statement.