America’s New Hero

Sep 6, 2009

With every grand slam there’s at least one story of inspiration and determination. Some don’t go further than making you smile, but there are those that can make your jaw drop in disbelief. For the US Open 2009, there’s only really one candidate for the latter category, and it is the now well-known story of Taylor Dent.

Never mind that he secured victory after a five-set, four-and-a-bit hour match against Spain’s Ivan Navarro, a match whose scoreboard reads like a lottery draw. No, it wasn’t just the match itself, it was what had led up to the significance of the day. Taylor Dent went through two operations on his lower back a couple of years ago which not only left him in a body cast that reached his knees, but forced him to spend 23 hours of the day lying in bed resting. For a long time, it wasn’t even thought he would be able to walk properly again, never mind pick up a tennis racket and play a four hour match. But he has, and if that doesn’t make your heart swell I’m not sure what will.

The operations on his back left Dent with a lot of thinking time to do; apparently he contemplated becoming an estate agent, but the plummet in the American housing market scribbled that off the list for him.

For any professional athlete to see their body succumb to something out of their control must be a psychologically devastating thing to experience. I suppose it was that bitter taste of what had happened to him which spurred him on to victory in his second round slog against Navarro.

Andy Murray had originally been enjoying a wealth of popularity in America. The Americans tend to like the British, and his Scottish mumble makes him all the more endearing. He was liked on the court, but not especially recognised on the street, and the first few days in New York were full of articles about ‘the people’s tennis player’ wandering the streets, drinking in cafes, sleeping in a noisy apartment, and – listen to this – taking public transport. If Murray’s astonishing humility wasn’t enough, he also hasn’t come up against an American at the US Open as of yet.

Ah. Well that’s where the image of a homely, humble Murray may go out the window. These Americans are a patriotic lot, and who can blame them. In England we went in a hysteria about a player at Wimbledon every year; we even named small landscape reliefs after him. And every year, pundits who tried to get into the patriotic mood were embarrassed by their lofty predictions; the guy has never actually won anything at Wimbledon. I speak of Tim Henman, of course. (Not Murray. Come on, I’m not that mean).

 So high expectations of your home players is not a new thing, but the Americans do take it very personally. Novak Djokovic discovered this when he messed with Andy Roddick last year; I imagine the bitterness still hasn’t been forgotten.

Andy Murray, therefore, is not going to do too well popularity wise playing the home hero. He’s American, he has a heart warming story behind him, his last match was a gladiatorial battle; I’m not surprised if we see a few Hollywood producers in the crowd waiting to buy the rights to Dent’s story. And what will Murray be? The foreigner trying to get in the American’s way.

And do you know what? That suits Murray down to the ground. If the Americans were truly intent on having Murray sent home and for Dent to continue, all they’d need do is rename the ground Murray Meadows, start shouting ‘Come on Tim’ for a bit of hilarity, and support the guy to the bitter end.

But I suppose we will just have to wait and see when the home favourite and the foreign usurper come together for their third-round match.


-          SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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