(November 15, 2012) -- Partisanship is a fickle concept; we've seen that play out on the political stage in recent weeks in the U.S. We've also seen it play out on the ATP Tour, as Novak Djokovic was quickly anointed the ATP's Player of the Year after winning the elite year-end event in London.
All year it has been a neck-and-neck race, with Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic all jockeying for pole position. In London, Federer nosed ahead on the strength of his past reputation at the O2 Arena. Here was Roger looking like the frontrunner, playing that quintessentially Federer-esque brand of tennis: precision and power, sublime touch and feel, and a finished product that is practically invincible on an indoor hard court.
This was the event that Federer had won six times total and twice in a row. If he won it again pundits would be hard-pressed to anoint anyone other than Federer as POTY. When the six-time champion jumped to a 3-0 lead against Djokovic in the final, nobody was considering Djokovic for POTY; when Djokovic rebounded to secure the 7-6(6), 6-4 victory, suddenly everybody was thinking Djokovic for the bragging rights of that distinction.
Well, not everyone...
All three formidable players won a Grand Slam over the course of 2012, and while Djokovic was first to win his -- way back in January in a scalding-hot epic final with Rafael Nadal -- most felt he still needed a strong week to pull POTY accolades from his fierce competition.
But even as Djokovic roared to an inspiring victory at the World Tour Finals, one that cements his grip on top dog status in the ATP, 2012 will always be about Murray. One of the ingredients of a banner year is a crowning achievement, and Murray had the crowning achievement of 2012 -- twice. Having walked the plank in a media maelstrom for years, Murray finally took the plunge into true greatness in 2012.
Murray's emotional wave was actually a tsunami that came as a result of his Wimbledon near miss, which made it all the more engaging. When Murray reached the Wimbledon final, the wave was creating a nice, easy shoulder for die-hard fans to ride.
Murray lost to Federer in that Wimbledon final, but it felt far more soul-quenching than his other three losses in Grand Slam finals.
Weeks later, on freshly reseeded grass, Murray's wave started to swell like those big 10-to-20 footers that you see off the coast of Kauai: spots where surfers have to swim a half-mile just to have a shot at a wave.
Murray won the Olympics on such a high; there was an air of invincibility. After all the years and all the tinkering, here was his euphoric moment.
UK's Guardian called Murray's 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 shellacking of Federer a “performance of breathtaking power and passion," and suddenly Murray really seemed like a U.S. Open favorite.
Murray arrived at the U.S. Open as the man of the hour. Those who scrutinized his achievements began to sing a tune of indifference towards having a major title be a requirement for greatness. (In winning the Olympics, one could make the argument that Murray had taken the biggest non-Slam tournament of the season. Forget "fifth Slam," this was 5th dimension for British tennis.) They weren't ready to crucify the man on the heels of his greatest triumph, and the pressure dropped ever so slightly, just enough to let Murray breathe while the wave continued to form.
Murray had won the Olympic gold medal and there was no taking that away from him. It was not a Slam, mind you, but something all the more prestigious. In year's past Olympic tennis had been a throw-away event. Players frequently skipped it to rest the body and mind and have a summer roll in the hay. But in 2012, with the Games being held at Wimbledon, one could make the case that this was the most significant Olympic tennis event of all-time. Being held on the hallowed lawns of SW19 elevated the event to iconic, super-tennis status.
A month or so later in New York, Murray was carving through the wind, securing two coming-of-age triumphs in extreme circumstances at the U.S. Open.
This was Murray at his finest, at his most unrelenting, his most clever and cunning. He carved Berdych, made him look like a dunce quite frankly (no offense to Berdych, for he is a genius in his own right), then persevered in a battle of wills against the mighty Djokovic in the final.
In London Murray marveled at his own fate, jumping high in the air and letting out a jubilant fist; in New York Murray got in touch with his reclusive self again. He was unable to emote after the victory. Spent, he had nothing left to give.
The price had been paid, the deal had been done.
In less than two months, two crowning achievements for the perennial underacheiver. He may have not won as many matches or titles as the other candidates for POTY, but Murray's bid for the title overcomes those obstacles when one takes into account how far he had to come to do what he has done and the historical context of the true rarity of his accomplishments.
An end to 76 years of waiting. To give you a perspective: imagine the next American Grand Slam champion emerging after a 76-year wait in 2079. How would we see that man? The one with the power to bring it back home? Of course he would be the hero in the States, just as Murray is in his nation.
Be he British, Scottish, fiendish, or lucky, Murray is the ATP's Player of the Year. Step back and allow yourself the privilege of perspective and tell me if that's not such a ridiculous assumption.
(Photo Credit: Andy Kentla)