Biweekly Binge: Andy Murray: Resurfacing - The lasting battle
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Andy Murray: Resurfacing streaming on Amazon Prime Video
In a recent podcast, Judy Murray — initial coach and mother of Andy and Jamie Murray — talks about how Andy Murray was “moping on the sofa” long after the 2012 Wimbledon final. His pain was all too clear on Centre Court during the trophy ceremony, but this is relatively new information. The only thing, she said, that got him out of the couch was the London Olympics that began soon after Wimbledon that year in the same venue, the same court. He made Gold. Six years later he would let his guard down again, after a gruelling three-setter win in Citi Open in Washington DC. This was different. It was an ATP 500 tournament, not a Grand Slam. It was the third round, not a final. He was ranked in the 800s. But in tennis, like in most life altering events, context matters. Andy Murray, at that point, was trying to return to tennis after over a year of hip injury, surgeries and rehabilitation. He was constantly in pain, deliberating with other players who suffered through the experience, made comebacks or had their careers washed out. The documentary Andy Murray: Resurfacing captures an athlete flat on the ground, his body letting him down with every move even as his heart remains large and ever ready.
The injury issues began after the Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Sam Querry in 2017, but it could have been the effect of Murray pushing himself to the fullest in the last third of the 2016 tennis season, playing week after week, tournament after tournament, winning them, and securing the no.1 ranking. But the documentary lays bare everything that was theorised about Andy Murray. He was, for a while, the disaster artiste in a sea of great players. His defensive, plucky game bothered top players for various reasons ("his ability to influence your mind is astonishing" is a revealing quote from Resurfacing) while also falling just short in multiple Slam finals till US Open 2012.
On the tennis front, we see Andy Murray, the relentless workman. After the initial rehabilitation, he hits for a while and his pain re-emerges. His coach and physical trainers tell him that the second serve has improved. Murray with his disarming deadpan, "Such a long way to go and we must get pumped about the second serve?" Resurfacing refers to the hip resurfacing surgery, but it is also resurfacing of a tennis player we know all too well and what makes him tick. Why he is who he is and why the practice of wearing his heart on his sleeve is unsurprising, a gateway to other things he is known for — his feminist instincts, his advocacy of women's tennis, his openness to issues within and beyond tennis. At least in tennis, until this era, crying on court after a victory or a loss was considered taboo, a display of emotion that athletes, especially men, are not supposed to partake in front of thronging crowds. The boys-don't-cry mentality was all pervasive but over the last 15 years, this has changed. Andy's myriad other character traits trickle down from this sensitivity. Showing vulnerability also means the allowance for empathy.
Resurfacing is that rare sports documentary that's neither an underdog story nor about a trash talking legend sneaking his way into greatness. It's the complete anti-thesis to all of that. A lot of times in the documentary, we see Andy turn around and sigh in a hospital bed. He records videos of himself before press conferences, before important matches, what were then comeback matches, but Andy still hasn’t returned for good. It's a peek into a tennis player's mind, someone who doesn't have a clear path ahead, does not know if he'll ever heal and when he'll be able to play top flight tennis again.
He tries everything; at one point he parkours to train his post-surgery hip to take the hits. It's apparent that the process is more arduous than the injury or rehabilitation itself. What eats into his mental health during this time is the indeterminate nature of this state. It's not a match that's going to end in three or five sets. Not knowing when he'll be completely pain free, not knowing when he'll be able to play like before, not knowing whether he should retire. Kimberly Murray, Andy's wife, says that he wants someone to tell him to shut it all down but she knows it's not her or other team member’s place to tell him to stop. It will last or be fulfilling only if Andy makes the decision himself.
Resurfacing also goes into what a casual fan might consider the negative sides of Andy Murray — the on-court demeanour, the madness directed at his player's box and the cursing, so much cursing that it is celebrated in GIFs. His brother talks about how tennis rescued a devastated Andy after their parents' divorce and Jamie going away to train, and the negativity part of it is what finds an outlet in this theatre. Resurfacing is full of such extremely personal nuggets from everyone — his wife, his mother, his coaches, trainers and doctors. It's hard enough for an artiste — and athletes are artistes — to put their work out there and it's only harder to be secure enough to put a documentary like this out there, an achingly close look at the physical and mental grind of a tennis player battling more than just opponents on court.
Resurfacing puts in context not just Andy Murray but all those tennis players with injuries, the damage it does to their mental health and career. In recent times, everyone from players destined for greatness like Juan Martin Del Potro to young, promising talents like Laura Robson and Cici Bellis have gone through career threatening injuries, multiple times in some cases. Tennis is a difficult sport to master and once you are a pro, climbing the rungs is an altogether different ballgame. In Resurfacing, we get to see one such endless battle of a multiple Grand Slam winner. It removes the cloak of steel covering some of these big names. It also makes us think about hundreds of other players, not as gifted or not as decorated – not yet at least – trying to make their way to the top betting against body and mind. And top is not what we think — a Slam. It might just be making the main draw or breaking into top 100.