The night before he made history for his country again, Andy Murray knowingly sabotaged himself by staying up to watch Tyson Fury become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Murray loves boxing so much that even though he was in bed by 11pm on Saturday, he was still trying to find an online stream of the fight in his hotel room in Ghent. His perseverance paid off in the end. It usually does.
However after leading Great Britain to Davis Cup glory for the first time since 1936 with his staggeringly cool victory over Belgium’s David Goffin on Sunday afternoon, he revealed that his boxing obsession could have harmed his chances of winning the final. “I always get a bit nervous watching boxing, especially watching heavyweights,” Murray said. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do.”
Mark it down as another of those wonderfully peculiar Murray moments. He is counterintuitive and single-minded, and he is utterly fascinating in his lack of pretentiousness, never fretting too much about whether his quirkiness will make people think less of him.
The ire that Murray provokes in some people is as amusing as it is preposterous. His detractors criticise him for never smiling and portray him as a miserable sod, as if he is a clown who is supposed to dance for our amusement. There was the pathetic reaction to his joke about supporting anyone but the England football team, while he was castigated by Little Englanders for expressing support for Scottish independence last year.
Despite his stirring efforts, the easily offended might make sure that he will not win Sports Personality of the Year this year, not that he will care. Yet his entry into the pantheon of British sporting legends is assured. The competition in that hall of fame is fierce. To name just a few, and with apologies to anyone whose name is missing, Steve Redgrave, Kelly Holmes, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Victoria Pendleton, Mo Farah, Lennox Lewis and Bobby Moore all have strong claims to be called the greatest of all time, arguably more so than Murray.
Any tennis fans who were alive to see Fred Perry win Wimbledon in 1936 might propose his name as well. Perry’s brilliant career haunted British tennis for 77 years, until Murray finally banished his ghost at SW19 two years ago, melting the incredible Novak Djokovic on that baking hot July afternoon.
Is there a better British athlete at the moment? Ennis-Hill and Farah are world champions in athletics, Lewis Hamilton reigns in Formula One, Nicola Adams is a boxing world champion and Fury’s shock win over Vladimir Klitschko was an immense feat. Murray has never been tennis’s world No1 and this is the first time he has finished a season as the world No2. He is comparable to his friend Rory McIlroy, who has performed wonders in golf but who has slipped slightly behind Jordan Spieth. Murray’s career was threatened when he had surgery on his troublesome back in 2013 and McIlroy has stalled because of injury.
There is no doubt that Murray’s contribution to his sport will stand the test of time. His victories at Wimbledon, the US Open, the Olympics and in the Davis Cup have ended a combined total of 336 years of hurt and he has done it in the toughest possible circumstances, competing for honours against three geniuses. Although he has tended to come up short against Rafael Nadal, he beat Djokovic in the semi-final and Roger Federer in the final when he won Olympic gold at London 2012 and he survived Djokovic’s Terminator act in two grand slam finals.
His team-mates lifted him into the air after he carried them to victory by overwhelming Goffin and a hostile home crowd. They were happy for him to answer most of the questions in the press conference afterwards. The pressure on Murray was absurd and it has been for years. He has been on a one-man mission throughout his career and winning the Davis Cup must be high on the list of British sporting achievements.
He had notable help from his elder brother Jamie. The final was effectively settled when the Murray brothers beat Steve Darcis and Goffin in the doubles on Saturday afternoon. James Ward played his part with his win over the USA’s John Isner in the first round and Leon Smith has captained the team expertly.
It was all about Murray, though. His spotless record in singles rubbers brought Britain eight of their 12 Davis Cup points and he was outstanding with Jamie in the doubles.
Murray is prone to the odd loss of temper and he was given three code violations for audible obscenities against Belgium. Yet he swears at himself because he loathes letting his standards slip. It is part of his unique charm.
If that is setting a bad example to youngsters, then it is surely outweighed by all the positives, his loyalty and decency, his appetite for hard work, his support for women. He always had a kind word for his lesser talented team-mates and it is worth remembering that he was under no obligation to play the Davis Cup. The quarter-final against France was a week after Wimbledon and the semi-final against Australia was a week after the US Open.
Yet winning with his mates and his brother was the most emotional moment of his career. There was personal glory on offer, but he was also in Ghent out of support for players who are his friends and a captain he has known since he was a small boy.
There was the grace he showed by pulling away from the mass bundle after that stunning lob on championship point to embrace the beaten Belgian team. There was the way he thanked the fans who defied security fears by coming to cheer him on. Afterwards he stayed on court for 45 amiable minutes, chatting to the fans and taking photos with them.
That was after he had just finished his 104th match of the year, which is absurd. He is an authentic great.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010