Britain's Andy Murray returns a shot during his singles quarterfinal… (Carl Court / AFP/Getty Images )
LONDON — It's time to become a fan. I am surrounded at these Olympics everyday by thousands of them, and those are just the German journalists.
Even though my calling is to report and analyze, not cheer and gush, I'm teased by the throngs of people wrapped in flags, faces painted the color of their country.
Even more than before, these are the root-root-root for the home team Games. The BBC has yet to find a 20th-place British rower it can't describe as "courageous" and "lovely." The Chinese interview only the Chinese and bristle when one is accused of swimming, perhaps with help from little pills or big needles, at the speed of a thresher shark. There is lots of unabashed stars-and-striping going on too.
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So, when the smiling volunteer at the bus stop sends me on my way to Wimbledon on Thursday morning with a "good luck to your athletes," I crack. Instead of explaining to her that they aren't "my athletes," that I was looking for Olympic stories, not nationalistic nonsense, I shrug and cave.
Soon, I am at Wimbledon, sitting on Henman Hill, watching the big screen and rooting on my guy, Britain's Andy Murray. A man offers a section of his Union Jack to wrap around me, but I can't quite go that far.
Our Andy is inside on Court 1, plying his tennis skills against Spain's Nicolas Almagro, who has considerable tennis skills, but certainly isn't plying them back. Almagro loses the first set, 6-4, and does his best imitation of a tanking badminton player in the second set. With an injured shoulder, he loses the second set, 6-1, while patting back whatever Murray sends his way. The British faithful, apparently not seeing, or caring, that Almagro's mind is already in the locker room, cheer match point as if somebody had just hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the World Series.
Maybe Almagro feels like me. It is Murray's turn.
The 25-year-old Scot has left his heart and various other body parts on tennis courts all over the world. He is in the elite of men's tennis, once ranked No. 2 and now No. 4. He is seeded No. 3 here with the injury withdrawal of Rafael Nadal and has made his way into the Olympic semifinals by beating Almagro.
The Brits are atwitter, and so am I.
Murray is not what he seems. His game is incredibly consistent and proficient. Also boring, as are his news conferences.
He is not.
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When he was 8, he lived through a school shooting in his hometown of Dunblane, Scotland, where a local shopkeeper killed 17 people, 16 of them children. Murray hid under his desk and says he was too young to remember much. An aftereffect of the Dunblane Massacre was a gun-control law in the United Kingdom.
When Murray was young, his mother took him to Wimbledon. He was an Andre Agassi fan and waited all day for an autograph. When the moment presented itself, Agassi kept walking and Murray has not stopped signing since.
He has grown into a well-liked tennis star.
London writer Alix Ramsay calls him, "a polite young man who is extremely intelligent and serious." Ramsay says that, because people here love him so much it "makes a huge difference to him and he wants to pay them back."
Neil Harman, tennis correspondent for The Times of London, says Murray has a "quick, dry wit and a wicked sense of humor."
"I once asked him when he was going to quit trying silly drop shots," Harman says, "and he asked me when I was going to quit asking silly questions."
Harman says he had a chat with Murray at Indian Wells this year and Murray teased him about knowing how to do phone-hacking (an ongoing scandal in British journalism) and delighted in applying the needle.
"He enjoyed my discomfort," Harman says.
Murray has been seen as a slight notch below the talent of the big three — Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, his opponent in the semifinals. He is pitied for the bad fortune of being born in their era. He has never won a major, losing in four of those finals, the most recent his four-setter to Federer at Wimbledon just over three weeks ago.
In the awards ceremony, the perceived stoic Murray began his comments by saying he was "getting closer." Then he broke into tears and the Brits melted. It is not hard to feel his pain.
Now, he is back at the flashpoint of the pressure and expectation. The British have Wimbledon and no Wimbledon men's champion, at least none since Fred Perry in 1936.
Would a gold medal on the hallowed grounds suffice? Would a grand moment at one of England's grand places, during a grand two weeks in British history, feel almost as good? Is Murray somebody we'd like to see achieve the improbable in a near-impossible situation?
We fans think positive. Go Andy.