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Andy Murray - Australian Open 2023

Begrudging Andy Murray wildcards is a cruel abandonment of appreciation


Andy Murray has been handed a wild card to compete in Dubai this year, and that is a very good thing. At least, you’d think so.

Since the announcement, there have been a minority – and it must be stressed that is all it is – who have claimed the former world number one should no longer be receiving wildcards. It’s completely baffling, to me at least.

“Coming back to Dubai brings with it a lot of good memories,” Murray said after signing up for Dubai.

“My form is improving and my game is getting better, so the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships provides another great opportunity for me to continue to climb back up the rankings.”

Clearly there there are those who would deny Murray a wildcard, and not for the first time either.

During the 2020 French Open, Mats Wilander took specific aim at Murray, outright saying he shouldn’t be accepting invitations anymore.

“I think Andy Murray needs to stop thinking of himself and start thinking about who he was,” Wilander said, although he did later admit that Murray proved him wrong. “Does he have a right to be out there taking wildcards from the young players?”

There was more criticism last year when Murray accepted a wildcard to play the Madrid Masters. Again, the same charges were levelled at him: specifically that he was taking opportunities away from young local talent. On that occasion, Murray took to social media to defend himself.

Andy Murray - Australian Open 2023

“More than happy to play qualifying,” he tweeted. “Will most likely play qualies in Rome. If a tournament invites me to come and play in the main draw are you suggesting I should turn it down and play quailes?

“Any tournament can give their wild cards to whoever they want.”

The arguments now are slightly different. Unlike before, Murray is not a player recently back from injury with his ranking lower than it should be.

Murray is has played with no major hip problems for a couple of years now, and so it is easy to claim that his ranking of 61 in the world is just his level now – and he should not get preferential treatment over anyone else ranked too low to automatically qualify for main draws.

Those arguments are valid, although they also completely miss the point.

Andy Murray is not getting wildcards out of sympathy or nostalgia. He is getting them because he sells tickets, and he sells tickets because of an incredible legacy that has been very hard-won.

It’s also a legacy he is still adding to, because not fall into the trap of believing that Murray is a spent force when it comes to tennis.

Granted, he is not looking close to winning Grand Slams anymore, but anyone who believes he is not still one of the best performers on the ATP Tour definitely wasn’t watching the Australian Open closely enough.

Murray was the driving force behind the best two matches in the whole tournament as he beat both Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis in five-set marathons.

In those matches, he produced incredible tennis that was beyond many higher-ranked players and wowed audiences across the globe. If we see a better match all year, we will be incredibly fortunate.

What they also were, though, were uniquely Murray.

Andy Murray - Australian Open 2023

Few sports allow players to express their personalities like tennis does. That is part of the enduring appeal and it is what makes the spectacle so storied. The shots, the movement, the reactions, the emotions… they all reflect upon the individual.

It’s impossible, for example, for anyone to replicate a Rafael Nadal match. What he brings to it in terms of intensity and competitiveness and raw sheer aggression is just too unique. No one could ever replicate Roger Federer’s grace and control either. The relentlessness and purity of groundstrokes that Novak Djokovic brings to matches can also never be imitated. They are unique talents.

Andy Murray is very much in the same bracket, and the Australian Open was a reminder that he can, and does, still produce it.

Those two matches were ones that no one else could have produced. Sure, the level of tennis is matched by others, but the unique manner in which Murray confronts adversity with raw endless resilience, while marrying it with flashes of outrageous quality in the toughest moments, is what kept people glued to their televisions for five hours – twice.

That’s Andy Murray. It’s a thrilling quality tennis spectacle that is a joy to watch, so which tournament director in their right mind wouldn’t want him in their draw?

More to the point, why would any viewers not want it? It’s not like you can get the specific kind of tennis we got from Murray at the Australian Open, and countless other tournaments before in his career, from anyone else.

We thought we had lost Murray a few years ago. For all intents and purposes, we had. It’s little short of a medical miracle that he has been able to extend his career and one more bad injury and it will be gone for good. Why deny ourselves it now?

No, to question whether Andy Murray is worthy of wildcards is a complete and cruel abandonment of the appreciation he so richly deserves and its something that needs to stop.

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