A year to the day since Andy Murray won the European Open, we remember arguably his finest, yet least-recognised, achievement.
If there is one thing we haven’t been short of as tennis fans in the modern era, then it’s having the privilege to watch greats of the game producing colossal achievements.
Only last week we watched in awe as Rafael Nadal, whom we have come to expect nothing but greatness from at Roland Garros, exceed even those lofty expectations against Novak Djokovic to win a 13th French Open title.
That brought him into line with Roger Federer and his well-established greatness, and Djokovic himself, though the loser at Roland Garros, seems destined to soon add even further to his own list of historic achievements.
For the modern tennis fan witnessing greatness and history have become just part of the experience, almost to the point, if we are honest, that we have perhaps come to take it for granted to a certain degree.
One year ago today, though, a small ATP250 tournament in Belgium arguably played host to the greatest tennis accomplishment of them all. If it not the greatest, it’s certainly comparable.
It seems counter-intuitive to list winning European Open in Antwerp even among Andy Murray’s career highlights. After all, we are talking about someone who has twice won Wimbledon as well as a US Open, and reached world number one in the ‘Big Three’ era.
As with everything, though, context is crucial. In this case, the context is cruelty. Specifically, the cruel twist of fate that decimated the career of a brilliant sportsman at his peak.
These days, the word ‘injury’ seems to follow Andy Murray around more than anything other. There is, sadly, some justification for that. When you cover tennis, you have probably written more stories in the last three years about Murray battling injury than you have about anything else in the sport.
The irony, though, is that the word ‘injury’ does not even remotely do justice to what has befallen Murray.
‘Injury’ implies there’s a temporary incapacity – something inherently fixable. That is not what Murray has.
What he has is a condition. Actually, no, that doesn’t do it either. Let’s just call it what it is: a handicap. He has a degenerative condition in his hip that has placed him under a permanent, severe handicap.
You can point to the fact that he had, for all intents and purposes, a hugely successful surgery and he is now back to playing Grand Slam tennis. Success, though, is relative.
In this case, ‘successful’ surgery meant a better quality of life and being able to, in your early 30s, tie your shoelaces without pain. There was nothing in the plan that guaranteed, or even recommended, a return to top level sport.
And yet, a year ago, Murray not only overcame that handicap to play ATP Tour level tennis, but he won a tournament – with a metal hip. He even beat a three-time Grand Slam champion, Stan Wawrinka, in the final.
The brutal reality is that it may be the best that it ever gets for Andy Murray post-surgery. Watching him at the French Open and Cologne recently, you can tell he is struggling.
That, though, only highlights just how huge an achievement it was for him to win the European Open in the manner he did. It’s an achievement that may never be matched, because it is going to take a special kind of character to even try, and a very special kind of player to succeed.
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