Andy Murray can follow football in pinning Mats Wilander’s criticism to the locker-room door

Swede’s remarks have shocked tennis but Scot can use them as fuel

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 5:38 pm
Andy Murray's French Open defeat brought stinging criticism from Mats Wilander
Andy Murray's French Open defeat brought stinging criticism from Mats Wilander

It’s the oldest trick in the motivational book. You take criticism, even rejection, and turn it into fuel. “We’ll show them,” a million football teams have muttered, pausing one last time to glance at the offending remarks pinned on the back of the dressing-room door. So is this going to be Andy Murray now?

The great Scot - twice Wimbledon champion and double Olympic gold medalist - has been more or less told to quit tennis following his fastest-ever Slam defeat.

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The criticism came from Mats Wilander, Sweden’s seven-times Slam title-holder and now a pundit. Murray’s first response was to post the remarks on Instagram and next to a thumbs-up emoji quip: “Love this.” But can they fire him still more, properly igniting his comeback bid after an injury-ravaged three years and two hip operations?

Wilander accused Murray of "giving a false sense of hope" that he will make a successful comeback

No one knows what the endgame for Murray will be, and certainly not an ex-player who isn’t close to him and who these days makes his money on TV where bland words are the norm and provocative and controversial ones are rarely anticipated and possibly not even sought.

Blandness still holds sway in tennis. Nowhere on the studio sofas, in the analysis of bad defeats, has there ever been a Roy Keane-type who will kick the loser while they’re down. Tennis remains a gentleman’s game - and a ladies’ one - and that is its appeal for many.

Wilander’s comments, then, have shocked. Tennis has managed to produce the odd straight-talker - John McEnroe previously and Nick Kyrgios now, with the Australian rushing to Murray’s defence - but they’re such rarities that telling Dunblane’s finest he’s basically causing a blockage in the sport by “taking wild cards from young players” is like Wimbledon’s strawberries being dolloped with hot chilli sauce and the barley water being spiked with weedkiller.

“I worry about Andy Murray,” Wilander told Eurosport after the French Open defeat to Stan Wawrinka in just one hour and 37 minutes. “I would love to hear him say why he is out there, giving a false sense of hope that he is going to come back one day. Is it his right to be out there doing that? Why?”

You can imagine the bit about “false hope” really riling Murray. He defeated Wawrinka to win the European Open last October. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev, part of the much-trumpeted new generation taking their time to dominate the sport, lost to Murray a couple of weeks before he flirted with winning the US Open.

How will our man react? Britain’s greatest player of the modern era doesn’t have anything left to prove. But if anyone doubted that he was one of the greatest competitors of any era and in any sport, they may be about to witness one last superhuman effort from him. Murray might have a metal hip these days but he’s always had an iron will.

Those words about the writing being on the wall may well be tacked up in the locker-room. If places like Wimbledon allow such things.

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