• ESPN Sports Personality - No. 1

Andy Murray - Stepping out of Perry's shadow

Jo Carter December 21, 2012
© PA Photos

The past 12 months have thrown up a catalogue of memorable sporting performances, including golden Olympic moments, acts of golfing greatness and more than the odd piece of heroism on a bike. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...

Andy Murray's US Open victory was not just a personal triumph; it was an historic sporting conquest for Britain. In the year that the London 2012 Olympics captured the nation's imagination, Murray extended the glorious sporting summer into September when he at long last captured his maiden grand slam in New York.

It was Murray's fifth grand slam final, having fallen at the final hurdle on four previous occasions. Another defeat would have seen him pass coach Ivan Lendl for the unwelcome record of having lost his first five major finals. But, like former world No. 1 Lendl, who went onto win eight grand slams, Murray made it fifth time lucky.

Except it was not about luck. This was a triumph of hard work, dedication and sheer single-mindedness - the downright determination to achieve a life's dream.

To win a grand slam is no mean feat, not least in what is arguably the strongest era in men's tennis history. It is widely accepted that if Murray had played in any other era, he would be a multiple major champion by now.

Having come up short on three occasions against 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer (US Open 2008, Australian Open 2010, Wimbledon 2012) and Novak Djokovic (Australian Open 2011), Murray exorcised his demons to end Britain's 76-year wait for a men's grand slam singles winner.

In any other year, Murray's achievement would have been the stand-out sporting event. To put it into context, Greg Rusedski was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1997 for reaching the US Open final. But in 2012, when Britain's Olympians excelled, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and Europe's golfers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to win the Ryder Cup, the strength of Murray's achievements have been diluted a little.

Having hired Lendl on New Year's Eve 2011, Murray began the new season with a new coach and a new approach to his game. Lendl said it would take six months for his methods to take effect, but the Lendl factor was already in evidence as the Scot won his first tournament of the season in Brisbane.

On the face of it, Murray's Australian Open campaign in 2012 was not his most successful, having fallen in the final the two previous years. But it was the nature of his semi-final defeat to Djokovic - a heartbreaking 6-3 3-6 6-7(4) 6-1 7-5 reverse - where he was the aggressor for much of the match - which led Murray to believe he was closing the gap on the top three.

Murray underlined that belief in Dubai, where he beat Djokovic in straight sets in the semi-finals before falling to Federer in the final. In previous years Murray has struggled during the spring, but an early exit in Indian Wells proved to be a mere blip as he reached the final in Miami, only to be denied by Djokovic again.

A solid, if unspectacular, clay court season followed, reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open, where he fell to David Ferrer. Heading to London for the defence of his title at Queen's, Murray sparked concern over his form heading into Wimbledon as he was stunned by Nicolas Mahut - he of the Wimbledon marathon fame.

But far from moping, Murray made good use of his time as he headed to the practice courts, and the extra training time with Lendl paid dividends as he powered through the opening rounds at the All England Club (save for a scare against Ivo Karlovic).

After dispatching Ferrer in the quarter-finals, Murray defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to become the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938. When he won the first set against Federer - the first he had won in a major final - the Scot had Britain dreaming of a first home champion since 1936.

But it wasn't to be, as Federer rallied to secure a 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 victory and his seventh title at the All England Club.

Andy Murray won Olympic gold on home soil © PA Photos

Ordinarily, Murray would then turn his attentions to the hard courts ahead of the final major of the year, but the Brit had a one-off shot at redemption, returning to the All England Club three weeks later for the Olympics.

And he grasped the opportunity with both hands, beating Djokovic in the semi-finals to set up a rematch with Federer. And this time there was no denying Murray as he romped to a 6-2 6-1 6-4 victory to deny Federer Olympic gold.

His performances in Toronto and Cincinnati were underwhelming at best, but like so many of the sporting heroes of 2012, it was about peaking when it mattered. Usain Bolt lost to training partner Yohan Blake in the Jamaican trials; Jessica Ennis struggled with her long jump in the run-up to London 2012, but when the big event came round, there was no questioning the champion.

And in New York, Murray finally fulfilled his potential, surviving the odd scare, prevailing in near-hurricane conditions and overcoming his own doubts to emerge triumphant.

Much to the New York crowd's disappointment there was no screaming, no dancing; nothing to suggest Murray had finally ended his, or Britain's, grand slam drought. The Scot just crouched on his haunches and held his head in his hands before commiserating with his opponent. Physically spent, emotionally exhausted, Murray had nothing left to celebrate.

"It's been a long, long journey. I don't know if it's disbelief or whatever," Murray said. "I'm very, very happy on the inside; I'm sorry if I'm not showing it as you would like."

He may lack the finesse of Federer, the passion of Rafael Nadal or the showmanship of Djokovic, but on September 10, 2012, Andy Murray confirmed his status as a sporting great.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk