Andy Murray is 1-20 to be voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the United Kingdom but has decided not to attend the ceremony in Leeds this Sunday evening as he is already focusing the start of the new tennis season in January. The annual award generally recognises the greatest achievement in British sport throughout the year and there is no doubt that Murray would be a worthy recipient.
Britain stages the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world every summer at Wimbledon, a suburb of London about eight miles south west of the city. Wimbledon is the only major tournament played on grass and every summer at the end of June and early July the BBC television schedules are cleared for two weeks of live tennis.
Murray became a massive favourite to win the BBC honour when he was the first British male player to win the Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936 this July. Every summer millions of viewers tune in to the coverage hoping for a home winner. Tim Henman was the main hope for several years but he never quite managed to win that elusive title.
Henman appeared in four semi finals but never reached a final. He was unfortunate to be at his best during the Roger Federer era and emulating Perry, who won three titles, was beyond him. His best chance came in when he led his semi-final against Goran Ivanisevic 5-3 in the fourth set and by two sets to one in 2001. After several rain delays Ivanisevic managed to win the match in five sets and then beat Pat Rafter in the final. He was the first and only wildcard player to win the Wimbledon title.
At the time of that match in 2001 the roof over Centre Court had not been built. If there had have been protection from the rain then Henman could have beaten Ivanisevic and won the title for the first time. Confidence gained from that success could have seen him match Perry’s haul of three singles titles at Wimbledon.
Murray was in a strong position to beat Federer in the 2012 final. He lost that match in four sets and was visibly upset and in tears when interviewed afterwards. He won the Olympic gold medal at Wimbledon six weeks later and then won his first Grand Slam at the US Open in September of that year.
The British player lost in the final of the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic in January but then beat the same player to finally win the Wimbledon championship. That achievement makes him a clear favourite to win the television honour but Murray will not be in the studio to receive the prize. In fact it would be out of character for him to interrupt his training programme with a Transatlantic journey.
The tennis season is structured in such a way that the first major of the season in Australia takes place just four weeks after the Christmas break. Players have to hit the ground running in January and be competitive in warm up tournaments in Australia and New Zealand. Murray wants to give himself the best chance of winning the Australian Open and get three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam.
With a Wimbledon and US Open title in his record Murray needs to win in Australia and the French Open to complete the set. Unfortunately he doesn’t look good enough on clay to beat Rafael Nadal over five sets and both players are about the same age. Nadal is going to be a factor in Paris while Murray is at his peak so he may never win the French Open.
The Australian version is an achievable aim but Djokovic and Nadal are always going to be around. Djokovic is just about the best player in the world outdoors on hardcourts while no player is likely to match Nadal’s record on clay. The Spanish player is now a major factor on hardcourts, especially as he won the US Open on the surface in September.
Nadal was either injured or out of form when Murray has had his most significant triumphs. Nadal wasn’t fit enough to play at the Olympics and he looks increasingly less effective on grass as the demands on his body take their toll. It would be unwise to bet against Nadal on clay but he his now playing well enough to win the Australian Open.
Murray will link up with the awards show on Sunday evening but from his training base in Miami and not in a studio in the north of England. Miami training has long been his routine at this time of year, building the platform of physical and mental well being ahead of the first major championship of the season.
The British player had lower back surgery in September. The problem was caused by a narrow nerve canal and it was only in the last month that Murray played points again after his enforced absence from the game. To fully recover from the operation and be at his best in Melbourne will take a massive effort and travelling to Britain in December is not part of the equation.
Murray would have to undergo two 10 hour flights in quick succession to make the return trip to England. As much as he owes the British sporting public some commitment in the context of being honoured the long term effects would negate any goodwill derived from appearing in person at the awards ceremony.
Even though Murray is a huge favourite to win the award his decision not to attend may be seen as a snub. Tennis does not receive the amount of coverage in Britain as soccer, rugby and cricket and sports fans are only really interested when Wimbledon dominates the schedules. Some floating voters may look elsewhere and even after the glories of the Olympics 2013 was still a great year for British sport.
Justin Rose, Chris Froome, Tony McCoy and Mo Farah performed in a way that could have won them the award in a year in which Murray did not make sporting history. The Sports Personality of the Year ceremony is Britain’s highest profile celebration of national sporting achievement. It says a lot for what Murray achieved that he will still get most votes even though he won’t be in the BBC studio to receive the award.