I'm a huge tennis guy, but I have to admit it: I've never been an Andy Murray fan. Maybe it's because his defensive, make-the-other-guy-miss style, while artful and strategic, is less than enthralling to watch. More likely it has to do with his court demeanor: He always seems to be sulking and generally looks like he's having about as much fun competing as I do washing the dishes.
Still, there is a lot to admire about the world's No. 2 player. He's the best thing to happen to British tennis in generations, having earned more than $40 million in prize money, won an Olympic gold medal, and broken a 77-year dry spell among his countrymen in capturing the Wimbledon crown in 2013.
He also has a beautiful wife, Kim Sears, and the two are expecting their first child next month. That brings me to the reason that I've had to reevaluate the dour Scotsman, who is among the favorites at the 2016 Australian Open, which began today in Melbourne.
Prior to the two-week tournament, Murray announced that he will withdraw from the event if Kim goes into early labor and fly home—even if it's the final. BBC quoted him as saying, "I'd be way more disappointed winning the Australian Open and not being at the birth of [my] child." He plans to take off the month of February, telling The Daily Mail, "I want to make sure at the beginning I am there as much as I can be to try and help out, just be there for whatever is really required of me."
Big deal, you say? For an elite athlete it most certainly is. Murray has been runner up in Oz four times. At 28, he's middle-aged for a tennis player and likely won't have many more opportunities to win it—especially with Novak Djokovic dominating the tour. Might he look back with regret on abandoning his last, best chance to grasp the trophy and begin a potential drive toward No. 1?
Probably not. While you would never have heard Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe (or even an unreformed Andre Agassi) rank being in the delivery room above being on the court, Murray is a different breed. His mom, Judith, taught him to play, coached him in his early years, and largely raised him after her divorce. Murray is also the first male pro in memory to hire a woman—the former champ Amelie Mauresmo—to be his coach (they continue to work together). Even if he seldom charges the net, he's clearly forward-thinking.
Times, of course, have changed as well. Paternity leave didn't even exist as a term in the era of bad boys Jimbo and Johnny Mac. Now a growing number of companies offer it, and men are slowly becoming less fearful to take it.
That doesn't necessarily apply to athletes, though: Daniel Murphy, whose postseason heroics helped lead the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series, was roundly criticized (and, later, defended by President Obama) for taking a three-game paternity leave at the start of the previous season.
Clearly, there is still a lot of progress to be made. And Murray's pledge will only advance the cause of father involvement so far. After all, he is a millionaire many times over and has the luxury of being able to turn down prize money—if not hang up his racquets for good—whenever he feels like it. Still, his devotion to being there for his wife and expanding family means something. So does the fact that he credits his happy marriage with improving his play during the past year. I might have even seen him flash a smile on court recently, if only for a moment.
Yes, I've become an Andy Murray fan, at least temporarily. For the next two weeks (or fortnight, as he might prefer), I am going to root for him to win, win, win. I hope he lays waste to every opponent and advances to the championship. I hope he's up two sets and a break in the final, ready to celebrate. And then I hope he gets that urgent, magical, long-distance call from Kim: "Honey, it's time."
David Sparrow is a Senior Editor at Parents magazine.