One day Murray will join the true Angel of the North

Andy Murray, a tougher, raw, more aggressive star, has beaten all the top players, grown bigger, changed coaches, added variety and maturity to his game and that weekend in Melbourne he looked as if he might — oh, how we hoped he might — grab a title worth winning. By Ted Corbett.

How much we need a champion, an elite athlete to replace Andrew Flintoff in the popular imagination, a sporting god to lead our ambition towards the London Olympic Games in 2012.

For a couple of days we thought it might be Andy Murray, playing with all the panache and skills of a champion right up to the final of the Australian Open tennis. Instead he was torn apart by a giant with greater skills, more speed, dash and élan and, most of all the ability to pay attention every minute.

Still we dream Murray may be our god. Not yet, but there are signs.

The BBC waited until it was clear that Murray must be in the final of the Australian Open and then rounded up their finest tennis commentary team, dusted down the equipment stacked away after Wimbledon, and flew the lot out to Melbourne.

The newspapers dispatched their most adjectival writers, the BBC radio crew — already in place — sorted out who was allowed to use the word “fantastic” and how often and the rest of us made sure we had a long sleep on Saturday night so that we would be up betimes, bright and concentrating, for the 8.30 a.m. first serve.

All in the hope that the brawny Scot Murray, the Angel of the North, would defeat Roger Federer, that Swiss king of tennis aces, and give us a Grand Slam titleholder for the first time since my first birthday.

It tells you something about our tennis, and maybe about the rest of our sport, that I am soon to be a great grandfather and still waiting for a successor to Fred Perry.

There is a consolation. I join all the other old folk whose 75th birthday permits them to watch television without paying a licence fee and who, to be honest, is more than grateful to spend his retirement in front of a large screen to find how the sports progress around the world.

I am sorry if I tread on the patch filled by the mighty Nirmal Shekar, but my subject is more British territory than tennis territory.

Murray did enough before he dissolved in tears to show he might be a champion one day and even to my unpractised eye Federer is beyond measurement. He has such an unwavering stare, he has made his reputation and he intends to see it remains intact and he is quick as any of those brown foxes whose running potential allow me to type so quickly.

One day Murray will join the true Angel of the North — a weather-resistant steel statue standing 20 metres high with a wingspan of 54 metres and weighing 200 tonnes just off the A1 and not too far from the Riverside Test ground — as one of the massive figures in British folklore.

The Angel is built to withstand winds of 100 miles an hour and there are moments when Murray looks as if he has that strength and stamina. When he passes an opponent, or lobs successfully, he opens his mouth and yells just like Highlanders on a battlefield, particularly when they tackled the English as they often did.

He was brought up by a tennis-playing mother — what might a man achieve with such a formidable lady in his background — in Dunblane where, early in his life he escaped death at the hands of a crazed killer who wiped out a whole classroom of schoolchildren nearby.

He is Braveheart just like the movie version of Scotland’s old-time hero William Wallace, a man brutally done to death by the English. It a cause for Scots to hate us as they often do although 40 years ago they made me welcome in their country.

For the last five years he has been the popular choice to replace Tim Henman who was almost a Grand Slam winner so often we lost faith.

Murray, a tougher, raw, more aggressive star, has beaten all the top players, grown bigger, changed coaches, added variety and maturity to his game and that weekend in Melbourne he looked as if he might — oh, how we hoped he might — grab a title worth winning.

Federer — never more than a couple of yards from the ball, or so it seemed — had too much and the most patriotic British man and woman must concede who was the better man.

One day we feel he may destroy Federer or Nadal or any of the other greats and go on to be a champion many times over. “The first one will be the most difficult,” he said in his new, cheering far-from-grumpy voice after he had won every other match easing up.

Like Flintoff, Murray will not hang a star on his dressing room door overnight and now, like him, we must wait for his opening triumph.

Meanwhile the old champion Flintoff is resting in Dubai, playground of the rich and famous, after yet another knee operation and teasing us. “He does not know where his future lies at this moments,” said a mutual pal.

A tale rushed round the wires recently that Flintoff was keen to play in the Ashes series next autumn; now he is denying any such hopes. He only — he says — wants to play four-day and one-day cricket for Lancashire and one-dayers and T20 for his country. My feeling is that Freddie is no more fully retired than I am; and if I feel superior it must be because he still has to pay for his TV licence!