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Big boys DO cry: Why women's sport will miss Andy Murray

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Serena Williams (R) of the United States and Andy Murray (L) of Great Britain are interviewed during the Draw Ceremony prior to the start of the 2013 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 22, 2013 in New York City.

Image credit: Getty Images

ByJen Offord
11/01/2019 at 11:02 | Updated 11/01/2019 at 14:31

Andy Murray is a feminist and his impending retirement hit will women's sport hard, writes Jen Offord...

As for many other Brits and tennis fans across the world, it was heart-breaking to wake this morning to the news that three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray is set to retire imminently.

Worse still, the 31-year-old will be forced to hang up his racket for good, on terms dictated by a hip injury that has plagued him over the last couple of years, rather than his own.

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In an emotional press conference on Friday, Murray announced he had hoped to retire after Wimbledon, in the summer, but he now acknowledged this may come sooner than he’d hoped, possibly after his opening match against Roberto Bautista Agut, at the Australian Open next Monday.

Figures across the sporting world were quick to take to social media to offer their condolences. Many, including another tennis legend, Billie Jean King, highlighted another issue to make the headlines over Murray’s career – his respect for female athletes, and willingness to speak out on their behalf.

She tweeted: “@andy_murray you are a champion on and off the court. So sorry you cannot retire on your own terms, but remember to look to the future. Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come. Your voice for equality will inspire future generations.”

Though slightly depressing that simply acknowledging the achievements of his female counterparts could garner just so many headlines, as a female sports journalist and card-carrying feminist, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the impact Murray has made in highlighting women’s sport to a wider audience.

When asked about Sam Querrey being the first US player to reach a major semi-final in many years at Wimbledon in 2017, Murray was quick to point out he was the first “male player.” Because it’s easy to forget the Williams sisters, right?

And that wasn’t even the first time he’d had to remind the world’s sports media about Venus & Serena, having corrected BBC presenter John Inverdale after he congratulated him for being the “first person to ever win two Olympic tennis gold medals,” following victory at the Rio games.

“To defend the singles title,” Murray interrupted. “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each.”

Even outside of his own sport, Murray condemned the “unreal” sexism at last year’s Ballon d’Or ceremony in which Ada Hegerberg was asked to twerk onstage as she became the first ever woman to collect the prize. Murray has stood up for his fellow athletes on countless occasions, but perhaps his biggest feminist gesture was to hire a female coach, Amelie Mauresmo, in 2014, just because she was, in his view, the best person for the job at the time. It was this, and the interest around the appointment that Murray said “opened his eyes”.

“She [Mauresmo] was slated every time I lost, which is something my former coaches never-ever experienced,” he said, acknowledging once again that a woman in sport – and, to be fair, many other industries – has to work twice as hard to get the recognition she deserves. And this is the thing about Murray – you never get the sense that his respect comes from his position “as a father” or “as a husband” or “someone who once spoke to a woman”. You get the sense that it’s just simply because it’s the right thing to do.

I had the pleasure of interviewing tennis coach and, of course, Murray’s mum, Judy, for the Standard Issue Podcast last year. I asked her, as a woman who has made massive efforts not just to get more girls into tennis, but to create a career pathway to attract more female coaches to the sport – was this something she had proactively instilled in her sons?

She told me: “It wasn’t something I went out of my way to do. We’re all products of our environment, they’re used to me being around, I work hard I’ve always worked hard.

I’m still out there working really hard for my sport – I still love my sport, and every guy’s got a mum.

Speaking of her pride in her sons, she added: “It helps enormously when a world-famous name in male sport speaks out about female sport and female coaches, and it’s enormous because it’s hard to get that kind of media attention when women speak out about it.”

Of course she’s right. In order to level the playing field, we need the likes of Murray to appeal to the hearts and minds of those who benefit from the current state of play.

The other thing about Murray that is perhaps praised less often, as well as the candour with which he is willing to speak on a number of issues, is the rawness of emotion we have seen from him over the years, challenging gender stereotypes perhaps without even meaning to. After all, it is these stereotypes that contribute to a sporting world in which women are still not fully welcome. It is a world in which we are – quite wrongly - told that “the weaker sex” are letting the side down, with their three sets, for example, and lack of a dominant figure. We are told that it’s all about “strong” men with powerful serves, and of course, we all know – men don’t cry.

Murray’s retirement hits women’s sport hard, because we’re losing an ally in a world where we very much need one, but we can only hope he will have inspired others. Murray has challenged the way we think about male athletes and female athletes, and will be sorely missed, but like King, I’m quite sure we have not heard the last of him.

Jen Offord is a co-host of Standard Issue. Twitter: @inspireajen

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