Andy Murray is among the five greatest tennis players of all time
From nearly man to the man, Andy Murray is close to scaling the summit of his sport, an achievement as special as becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936, writes Desmond Kane.
Winning does not naturally breed popularity.
Yet sport's greatest winners have never been overly fascinated by public opinion. Not when universal approval comes from within.
It would hardly be fraternising with hyperbole to suggest Andy Murray is not the most popular tennis player in Paris this week.
That much was true during his run to the French Open final in June. That much is true during his return to the French capital for this week’s Paris Masters.
Having being handed a time violation by an overanxious umpire as he prepared to confront a key break point at 5-5 in the third set, the Scotsman was booed.
When Murray won the point as Verdasco dumped a passing shot into the net, Murray was roundly booed. While he celebrated by unleashing a trademark first pump and a rousing 'come on', Murray was roundly booed and whistled at. Bizarre, but true.
Not that Murray noticed. When you are hell-bent on becoming your country’s first man to reach the lofty position of world number one, you do not pay any attention to the surrounding noise.
Because that’s all it is, irrelevant noise. Only the weak become distracted as Murray showed by progressing to the quarter-finals with a win over local lad Lucas Pouille in front of another rabid home crowd.
Murray has been as much a strongman in France and around the globe this year as Obelix.
While the home fans tried to encourage Verdasco to find a response on his own serve, it was clear he was already toast as Murray broke to love. Neither was Pouille up to Murray's level on Thursday evening in front of a raucous home support. Few are.
Like Novak Djokovic, Murray is not the type of figure who allows a partisan crowd in Paris to affect his thought process.
Djokovic benefited from the vast majority of the support in Paris when he lanced Murray in four sets completing the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in June.
Murray’s suddenly tetchy relationship with Parisian tennis fans means little other than to suggest it hints at his greatness.
If he is sometimes derided for his dourness in Great Britain, he is hardly going to have them rolling in the aisles across the Channel.
Yet Murray is much more believable than Roger Federer, who has an immaculate public persona, but who surely must lose the rag now and again in private.
Djokovic emerged clasping the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2015 despite being subjected to some disgraceful cheers from the locals when he missed a line in those finals.
The treatment he received in New York 14 months ago was particularly wretched as it seemed half the crowd had been binging on vats of Bud before cheering for a winning Federer rally like they were at a Donald Trump rally.
Like Djokovic, Murray's standing as a great champion is undisputed.
Andy Murray - Wimbledon 2016AFP
He is his sport's outstanding number two, who is tantalisingly close to becoming only the 26th man since 1973 to become his sport’s official number one.
It should settle the argument for good about who is Britain’s greatest sports person of all time. If he does not reach his destination in the death throes of this year, expect him to scale the summit early in the New Year.
Murray is a much more potent player than those of yesteryear. You cannot simply judge tennis on how many Grand Slams a player wins, but you can ask how they would cope in more favourable times?
Perhaps as great if not greater than becoming the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon three years ago. Unlike carting off a Grand Slam, attaining the world number spot rewards a consistency of performance over an extended period of time rather than just a fortnight.
No longer could the critics hit you with the line: “How can Britain’s greatest sportsman never have been number one in his sport?”
Murray has won seven titles this year, including a second Wimbledon, played in the Davis Cup semi-finals and won 53 out of his past 57 matches. It is astonishing return from the nearly man, who is about to become the man.
Andy Murray with the China Open trophy.AFP
Murray’s three Grand Slams between 2013-2016 are worth more than many men who carried off several more Grand Slams decades ago.
Due to sports science and the progression of athleticism in sport, it is no longer merely acceptable to be good at tennis. These days you must discover a fitness level greater than Iron Man tri-athletes taking on Kailua-Kona in Hawaii, and a mental staying power worthy of Garry Kasparov.
Replays of Rod Laver, Ken Roswall or even Murray's coach Ivan Lendl look like they are playing a different sport decades ago. Because they are.
When you analyse where you would place Murray in the list of the sport’s all-time greats, it is difficult to escape from the conclusion that he is already inside the top five of all time.
Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras and Murray would be a top five that would prompt debate, but an entirely reasonable proposition.
It is a belief that would only be strengthened if Murray uproots 12-time Grand Slam winner Djokvoic, who many already view as the greatest, at the summit of tennis.
Murray might never win a popularity contest. There is no trophy for that. Neither is there a trophy for becoming his game's number one.
Yet for Murray the significance of such a moment should not be undersold.