Andy Murray. (Catherine Whitaker's Blog #2)5 Comments
42 likesDavid and I debated a few podcasts ago, before the start of the 2017 season, who we considered to be the favourite for the men’s singles titles at the upcoming Australian Open. David reckoned Djokovic, given he's won six of the things already. I reckoned Murray, owing to him being the World Number One, and having beaten Djokovic in their last meeting (this pod was recorded post O2, pre Doha).
The fact is, it’s marginal. More marginal than it’s been for any Grand Slam of late.
I have to admit that I probably predict Murray to win more than I should on the podcast. Why? A) I’m British, and B) I really like Andy Murray.
He isn't perfect, I’m not claiming that. Sometimes his behaviour on court is tough to watch. But then, I think it’s probably a tough watch for Andy too, if and when he does watch himself back (surely he does). And that’s one of the things that pleasingly distinguishes him from a lot of athletes/millionaires/megastars; self reflection.
There are other things that set him apart from many of his peers, and you might not be surprised to hear that I consider one of those to be his attitude towards women. I know in the great scheme of things he’s no Germaine Greer or Laura Bates, but in the context of his environment, he really is. Because that environment is about as macho as it gets. I won’t go into detail here because David would like me to keep this blog ‘upbeat’ (not always my go-to vibe), but let’s just say I speak from experience, and they have not always been brilliant experiences.
Can you think of any high profile male athlete that’s actually dared to label himself a feminist before? I certainly can’t. And again, that shouldn’t be something someone deserves any particular credit for (no-one gets a pat on the back for declaring that they’re not a racist), but in the context of tennis locker rooms, and I imagine most sports locker rooms, it definitely is.
I have certainly always felt respected whenever I have had dealings with him or had the opportunity to interview him. Some might take this for granted, but as a women working in sport, and in particular I suppose on TV, the default position is often that you’re assumed at worst to be some kind of bimbo, or at best to be unqualified, until you prove yourself otherwise. On good days I enjoy that challenge and relish proving people wrong. On grumpy days I resent that it’s necessary and often send David a barrage of disillusioned messages so that he can say reassuring things (he’s good at that). But I always look forward to interviewing Murray because I know I can relax in the knowledge that he thinks I’m decent at my job, and wouldn’t be there if I were not.
Another of his most basic charms is that he’s just a pretty normal guy. Simon Briggs wrote a great piece along these lines at the end of last year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tennis/2016/12/16/andy-murray-greatest-achievement-isnt-packed-trophy-cabinet/) and I echo his well-expressed thoughts completely. It is such an overused cliche to say that someone is unaffected by the luxuries of fame and success, but in this case I do believe it applies. The truest test comes not when a player has won; it’s easy to be nice when things are going your way. It comes when a player has lost. When Andy Murray loses a match there is no mask that slips, no commitment that goes unhonoured no question that goes unanswered, or worse, rudely answered. He remains the same human being. He will still give thoughtful and considered answers in press conferences. Stuart Fraser in The Times wrote last week how he stuck to a lengthy, pre-arranged interview after the final in Doha. A 3-hour, gut-wrenching final that he lost. He will still give an interview to BBC Radio 5 Live, even though he’s only technically required to speak to his country’s TV broadcaster. He still speaks to Eurosport, even if he’s only required to speak to BBC TV.
It is unusual for any player ranked inside the Top 50 to do any media beyond the minimum mandatory requirements after a loss, and it is a real marker of Andy Murray’s integrity and normality that he does.
So, I don’t know if he’s going to win the Australian Open, or fall short once again. To be honest, the objective part of my brain probably now puts Djokovic as the marginal favourite; he won their epic Doha final, showing his old fighting spirit in the process, and as David points out, six Melbourne titles are hard to ignore. And who’s to say Federer, or Nadal, or someone else entirely won’t come along and win the thing? Any one of those scenarios would be special and interesting in their own way. But there's no doubt that it would be a big deal if Murray does finally win it. Yes, because I’m British. Also because I’ve witnessed, up close, his consistently thwarted plight to win this title over the last eight years, his every sinew straining to try and get him over the elusive finish line.
But most of all, I suppose, because I think he’s an all-round decent guy, deserving of good things.
I remember vividly the day David Law whatsapped me suggesting we start our own podcast. In fact, he didn’t ‘suggest’ it, he just told me we were going to do it. It went something like this:
David: I’ve had an idea [I get a message like this from David roughly twice a day]
David: We’re going to start our own tennis podcast.
I really think it was as simple as that. As soon as he suggested it, it felt so obvious, like something we should have been doing all along.
At that time I had very little broadcasting experience. I’d interviewed players a fair bit on the ATP Champions Tour, but never really for broadcast, and certainly never with the prospect of anyone hearing my voice.
Now, I have to make a confession here, I have never gone back and listened to the first episode of the podcast. David does it all the time, and remarks to me with great pride how far we’ve come, but I can’t bear to. I got over that cringey thing of listening to your own voice ages ago (not that it’s not still cringey, just that I’m used to it), I just can’t bring myself to listen to my voice as it probably was five years ago; nervous and tentative.
I know without listening to Episode One how far we’ve come though. And not without some challenges along the way.
There was the time we recorded a whole podcast, only to realise that we (yes, we. David and I have implemented a no-blame policy when it comes to technical errors) had failed to press the record button, and so had to produce the whole thing again, making all the anecdotes sound spontaneous and original. That may have happened more than once come to think of it. Thank goodness for that no-blame policy.
And there was the time David and I had a row over my use of slightly too derogatory a word to describe Roger Federer’s decision to wear that jacket for the Wimbledon final in 2009. David was right of course, and we edited that bit out. David will occasionally suggest minor edits to ‘save me from myself’, and he’s always right. I really did hate that jacket though, what a plonker* he looked (*not the original word).
There have been other cataclysmic Whitaker errors that I wish had been edited out but weren’t. The time I confidently proclaimed that Serena Williams winning the 2013 Wimbledon title was the biggest foregone conclusion in tennis history, and she promptly lost to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round. That really was a low point for my credibility, one I’d like to tell you I learned from, except that only a few months ago I told listeners that there was 'no way’ Andy Murray would get back together with Ivan Lendl…
Not all the low points have been my fault. There was the time my Dad told me that Simon Briggs was the real star of the podcast and we should get him on more. I think he was joking about the first bit, but he does bloody love Simon Briggs. Speaking of which, remember that time Simon used the phrase ‘warp and weft’ with a completely straight face? That’s why the Telegraph pay him the big bucks.
And speaking of big bucks (note the excellent podcast-esque segues), you may remember at Queen’s last year we had Liam from One Direction on the show, and we thought we’d scored a massive coup by getting him to tweet about it. Big mistake. Huge. 18 months later our podcast twitter notifications are still dominated by daily tweets from crazed ‘Directioners’ declaring a variety of hysterical feelings for Liam. A minor, terrifying glimpse into the life of an A-List celebrity. And into the horror that social media can be.
This year at Queen’s I practically prostrated myself before Goran Ivanisevic, begging him for an interview. He was just in one of those contrary moods, and wasn’t having any of it. That was until David Law marched right over to him, stooped to his eye level, produced some colourful language, and forced the 2001 Wimbledon Champion to give me an interview. No-one messes with the Law. Apart from me, whenever Poll Vault is mentioned.
And yet in spite of the abomination that is Poll Vault, and other blights on our credibility, about 10,000 of you tune in every week, and so far 357 of you have chipped in to help us reach the £10,000 target needed to keep the thing going in 2017. We're at more than £11,000 as it stands currently (with a week to go), which means we're not far off reaching the £15,000 needed to guarantee daily pods during Grand Slams this year. That’s pretty amazing, and it’s all the more amazing when I look back and think of myself and David, in a dining room in Solihull, excited and nervous in equal measure, recording that very first episode, certain in the knowledge that no-one would be listening, but not really caring. Because talking about tennis is fun, regardless of whether anyone is listening (we’re very glad you are though).
Just got home after another great week reporting for beIN Sports in Doha on the Qatar Total Open WTA event.
Lucie Safarova a very worthy champion and one to watch on grass if she can repeat the sort of performances she produced last week. Great to see Victoria Azarenka back to somewhere close to her best as well.
London-bound after completing my sixth annual trip to Delray Beach in Florida. Lovely to be back on the ATP Champions Tour and to see some new and old faces.
Goran was in good spirits as Marin Cilic was due to start practising this week after missing the start of the season with a shoulder injury. Will be good to see him back on the tour - especially on the American hard courts where he can really challenge.
Also great to see James Blake make his ATP Champions Tour debut. He gave me a great interview for the Tennis Podcast, offering some real insight into the tour and how his life has changed since retirement. It's worth a listen if you have a few minutes to spare.