Sport Tennis

Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment: Belgium dares to smile again after troubled month

Great Britain's captain Leon Smith lifts a replica trophy during day three of the Davis Cup Final at the Flanders Expo Centre, Ghent.
Great Britain's captain Leon Smith lifts a replica trophy during day three of the Davis Cup Final at the Flanders Expo Centre, Ghent.
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

As the most traumatic month in Belgium’s recent history came to a close this weekend, the wonderful simplicity of sporting joy put a smile back on the face of this troubled nation.

Belgium may have been beaten in tennis’ Davis Cup final by wonderfully inspired British hero in Andy Murray, but for three wonderful days inside the Flanders Expo Arena in Ghent, the troubles of the last few weeks were forgotten.

Those who travelled through Brussels to make the half an hour trip to Ghent didn't need to look far to be reminded of the crisis gripping Belgium's people, as the mastermind behind the Paris terror attacks that shocked the world is on the run in their country.

Army tanks remain on the street in the country's capital city and entrances to each train platform are guarded by heavily armed military.

The presence of a burly security guard at the entrance of the hotel where the GB tennis squad are staying served as a reminder of the current trauma being endured by Belgium, with the quiet streets another caution that prevails among the natives.

This is a country on a state of highest alert amid suggestions that a terrorist attack in Belgium imminent, so there was a genuine belief that this sporting contest to decide one of the oldest trophies in sport might not take place at all.

Yet the authorities ensured there was a sporting event to take place on Belgian soil this weekend and what an event it turned out to be.

Friday’s opening two matches were shared as David Goffin secured a point for Belgium and Murray responded with a typically brilliant display to bring the tie level at 1-1. With Saturday’s doubled being edged by Andy and his brother Jamie Murray, it fell to Britain’s greatest ever sportsman to win the tie on the decisive Sunday.

Murray duly delivered, as he beat Goffin in straight sets to spark wild celebrations among the wonderfully behaved travelling Brits, many of whom had expressed reservations about travelling to Belgium just a few days ago.

The suggestions that two-time Grand Slam champion Murray should be viewed as Britain’s greatest sportsman of them all is disputed, but this 2012  Olympic gold medal winning hero has turned the Davis Cup team event into a one-man crusade in a limited team over the last couple of years. This latest glory adds to his glowing record.

Curiously, British sports fans still struggle to warm to Murray despite his stunning achievements, with my suggestion on Twitter sparking a predictably negative response from his detractors who have long since settled on their opinion of a Scot who lacks the personal charm required to endear sports fans who do not appreciate his brilliance.

In an era when tennis has seen some of its greatest champions, Murray has come from a cold, dank corner of Scotland to challenge Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in impressive fashion. This Davis Cup triumph cements his place in sports Hall of Fame and, no doubt, he will be called Sir Andy sooner rather than later.

Yet it was the occasion, the relief felt by the raucous, passionate Belgians ad Brits into the Expo Arena that will be the lasting memory of this truly memorable event.

In what has been the most shocking month the normally anonymous nation of Belgium has lived through in years, the side show of hosting the finale of one of the biggest events in tennis acted as a welcome distraction.

Once again, sport emerging as a force for good against rising evil. Praise be.

Online Editors

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