Why feminist Andy Murray is one of tennis’s most popular players
‘I don’t think there’s a woman player, and there really shouldn’t be a female athlete, that is not totally supportive of Andy Murray.’
Andy Murray was hailed as a strong ally to women after announcing he is on the brink of retiring from professional tennis.
The 31-year-old will be remembered for his achievements on the court when he finally does hang up his racket, notably his three grand slam singles titles, including the first by a British man at Wimbledon since 1936.
But he has also been a role model off the court, especially with his support of women in the sport – a subject not many top male players rush to speak about.
His impact was noted by Billie Jean King, one of the greatest ever players in the women’s game who has herself been a powerful advocate of equality.
“You are a champion on and off the court,” she wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Murray has been an advocate of equal pay in tennis, and has also called for more women’s tennis to be scheduled on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
He has famously challenged reporters over their erasure of women’s achievements, for example pointing out when one TV presenter congratulated him on becoming the first tennis player to win two gold medals at the Olympics: “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each.”
And he was one of very few players in the men’s game to hire a female coach, saying the treatment received by Amelie Mauresmo in that period opened his eyes to the sexist behaviour women encounter on a daily basis.
“I didn’t realise that Amelie would find herself up against such criticism and prejudice,” he said. “The staggering thing was that she was slated every time I lost, which is something my former coaches never, ever experienced.”
His role as an ally for women in tennis has clearly been noticed and appreciated by current players too.
British number one Johanna Konta said: “There have been so many examples of when he has stood up for us – not just for women’s tennis but women in general.
“He has also been blessed with two daughters and I think he’s grown up with a really strong female role model with his mum and now his wife is also a strong character so he is surrounded by great, strong women.
“He has put that through in the way he has voiced his opinions and the way he has tackled some questions and issues that have arisen and I think everybody has always been very appreciative of him and how he has stood up for the women’s side of the game.”
British number two Heather Watson, who partnered Murray in the mixed doubles at the 2016 Olympics, described him as having a “heart of pure gold”.
She wrote on Instagram: “You’re most definitely one of the most liked and respected players on the tour. I know all of us girls in the locker room are in awe & so grateful for how you always fight in our corner! Thank you so much for that. You inspire me in so many ways and I don’t want you to go!”
German player Andrea Petkovic told reporters: “He was always my favourite, and I think it will be a huge loss for tennis in general, but also for the WTA. Because even nowadays, when you think everything is equal, you still need men, especially successful men, to speak up for women.”
In 2017, Murray called out a reporter for ignoring women’s achievements at Wimbledon.
When the journalist described Sam Querrey, who had just beaten Murray in the quarter-final at the All England Club, as the “first US player to reach a major semi-final since 2009”, Murray clapped back: “Male player.”
And Serena Williams, a US player who has reached many major semi-finals since 2009, told ESPN soon after: “I don’t think there’s a woman player, and there really shouldn’t be a female athlete, that is not totally supportive of Andy Murray.
“He has spoken up for women’s issues and women’s rights, especially in tennis, for forever. And does it again.
“That’s who he is, and that’s one thing that we love about him. He has such a wonderful mother who has been such a strong figure in his life, and he’s done so much for us on our tour, and we love Andy Murray.”
From the world of politics, Mims Davies, minister for sport and civil society, said: “Both on and off the tennis court, he has inspired millions through his indisputable talent, honesty, fighting spirit and support for the women’s game.”
And Labour MP Jess Phillips wrote on Twitter: “Great player, normal bloke, and best of all casual feminist.”
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