2016 has been such a dark year. In fact, both 2015 and 2016 have been hard years personally, politically, and professionally. I've found myself seeking a soothing respite from it all in tennis. I've always watched the Grand Slams and generally kept up with both the ATP and WTA tours - but this year, I've sought out all the Masters Series matches, drawn a comic about tennis in 2016, and I got a chance to catch some of the Wimbledon qualifying matches up close which was genuinely exciting. I've even started planning a comic about tennis which I'll hopefully make a start on before the end of the year (I need to get out of a little "I don't like the way I draw" slump first).
So in a year in which everything else has been pretty horrible, it was a nice surprise that one of my favourite tennis players - Andy Murray - made it to World Number One after 70-odd weeks at the number two spot.
I think I first saw Murray play in his Wimbledon debut in 2005 when he eventually lost in a gruelling five setter with David Nalbandian. I remember even then he faced criticisms for his temperament and fitness levels (having succumbed to cramp in the Nalbandian match). But it was clear, the way he played then, that he was going to be - at the very least - a more interesting British player to watch than the serve-and-volley specialist Tim Henman. I've never been much a fan of supporting British players just because. Murray was different though - an exceptional player who had a game I actually wanted to watch.
On the court, Murray has one of those games that is nuanced and strategic - perfect for someone, like myself, who enjoys the "chess at ninety miles an hour" aspect of tennis. He has the shot selection, the strength, the endurance, and the smarts to deliver interesting, intelligent matches. As Andy Roddick has said: "no-one else on the tour has a higher tennis IQ than Andy Murray". He may not have the flair of Federer, the precise power of Nadal, or - until this year - the consistency of Djovokic - but this is what I find most charming about Murray. The - as the New York Times put it - "walking existential crisis" that is Andy Murray can be a frustrating watch sometimes, but that can part of the fun of it. And yet, when we look back at this year - he reached three Grand Slam finals (one of which he won, the other two were lost against a historic Djokovic career slam), he defended his Olympic gold medal, and won six Masters titles. He's currently on a 20 match winning streak, with a 74-9 win-loss record for the year. While Djokovic's form has definitely dropped since his French Open win - giving Murray a path into the top spot - Murray also deserves credit for his persistence and a solidly consistent year.
Off the court, Murray was the first men's tennis player to hire a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo, described himself as a feminist (possibly the first/only male athlete to do so?), and helpfully points out when journalists are making sexist statements. Unlike a lot of the other top players, he doesn't have a tax haven residence in Monte Carlo. When he cried after losing Wimbledon to Federer in 2012, the British public finally warmed to Murray (though I'm pretty sure the traditional 'British when he wins, Scottish when he loses' "jokes" persist) and he has recently talked about this in reference to how people should talk more openly about mental health. He's been outspoken on doping, match-fixing, gambling sponsorship, and equal pay in tennis, making some great statements this year after the Indian Wells fallout. And if you weren't ever so slightly charmed by his Sherlock fandom or the way he clutched the trophy for dear life at Wimbledon this year, then I don't know what to do with you.
Also - you know what? I find his dry monotone and deadpan delivery endearing - at least he has a sense of humour about it: "No matter how excited I try to sound my voice still sounds incredibly boring. But I'm actually incredibly excited right now. That's just my voice. I'm sorry."
Congratulations Andy Murray. Even if it's only for a week.