Andy Murray’s Olympic victory has cemented his place as Britain’s greatest tennis player, according to Tim Henman.
Murray has developed a real habit of making history. First home Wimbledon winner in 77 years, inspiring a first Davis Cup win in 79 years, a British record 11 Grand Slam final appearances and now, the only man to defend an Olympic men’s singles title.
That latest feat was remarkable – completing a 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Juan Martin del Potro on Sunday that took a little more than four gruelling hours on court.
“I think it is safe to say he is the greatest British player of all-time,” said Henman, who won Olympic doubles silver with Neil Broad in Atlanta.
“It is different going back to Fred Perry because it is a different era but when you look at what he has achieved and what he will go on to achieve, it will be a more relevant conversation to say ‘where does he stand in the world game’s [best of all-time]’.
“It is a numbers game then about how many Grand Slams he ends up winning but what he has achieved has been incredible to watch.”
As a noted sports fan, Murray has always embraced the Olympic experience – perhaps too much in Beijing in 2008 when he suffered a shock defeat in the first round.
Four years ago in London, he used his traditional Wimbledon game plan, staying at home and detaching himself from all distractions. Singles gold and mixed doubles silver were his reward.
But Henman couldn’t fault Murray for soaking it all in at the Games – he did the same himself during a playing career which included men’s doubles silver alongside Neil Broad at Atlanta 1996 ¬– and acknowledges the Olympics provide a unique set-up for tennis stars.
“I think the Olympics is very different to anything else because when you are playing in the biggest tennis tournaments around the world then you are the focal point,” said Henman.
“But with the Olympics, there are so many other events and venues going on around you and it can be a distraction.
“It was an amazing experience and I went to the opening ceremonies in each of the three Olympics and they were three of the most enjoyable moments in my sporting career.”
Murray is used to carrying the burden of national expectation, from Melbourne Park to Flushing Meadow and all stops in between.
Perhaps that’s why he loves the Olympics so much, the chance to be just one of the team, rather than the team.
Nine days after he carried the flag at the opening ceremony, he wrapped himself in the flag, after becoming the first man to defend an Olympic men’s singles title in a sizzling final with Del Potro.
“It’s been an emotional few days and I think that just all came out at the end,” he admitted.
“To carry the flag and win the gold means this has been an amazing few days of my career but also the doubles loss with Jamie was really hard, I was very down and upset after being on a high from the closing ceremony. Emotionally it’s been difficult but I’ve enjoyed the experience.
“Being part of this huge team, over 300 athletes, is the greatest thing about the Olympics, that’s why it means so much to me.
“I’ve loved staying in the village and spending time around the team and feeling part of something bigger than just your sport.
“I saw Justin Rose win the golf before I came on court and I’d seen Max Whitlock, who I’ve spoken to in the village a few times, win his gold before I left the village. They both inspired me and I don’t have that feeling on the tour or in a Grand Slam.
“The gymnasts amaze me with what they can do with their bodies and I’ve been speaking with him a bit about his training schedule, which is incredible.
“I’ve worked hard for this, I never expected to be competing for these events when I first started playing on the tour and I’m very proud. I’m happy I won but it’s not for me to compare achievements but this one means a lot.”
From James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Rio