For a documentary about an athlete’s broken body, maybe it’s telling that much of Andy Murray: Resurfacing shows an athlete in two minds. The Scottish tennis star is in constant rehabilitation after a hip surgery at the beginning of 2018. More visibly, he is in constant conflict about the long road back. And back to where, exactly? The top? The bottom? The middle? Back to playing or running or walking or competing…or winning? There is no tangible destination; uncertainty is his only certainty. At least thrice in the film, we see Andy Murray declaring – or revealing – that he can’t take it anymore. That it’s the end. That nothing is working. At one point, he enters the pre-Australian Open 2019 press conference to announce that it’s his last tournament. He breaks down. At another point, after battling through three consecutive marathon matches in Washington, he collapses on his chair. And breaks down. Long, uncontrolled sobs into his towel. At yet another point, he is interviewed courtside after losing a five-set Melbourne epic in what is widely considered to be his swansong. His voice wavers.
But something strange happens during this interview. Midway through, after acknowledging that this defeat was a perfect way to say goodbye to the sport, Murray loses his train of thought. The crowd explodes – they cheer for a man who, for years, was viewed as a sour-faced tragedy gatecrashing the “Big 3” era. Look closer, and you can pinpoint the precise moment where Andy Murray, on the verge of confirming his retirement, reverses his decision. Egged on by the adulation, he changes tone: “Maybe I’ll be back next year, I’ll try my best”. You can sense the chaos backstage; he’s gone off-script. Headlines are disrupted. An accurate fictional equivalent would be heir-inapparent Kendall Roy altering his speech with the famous “but” – sending the watching world into a tizzy – to conclude the second season of Succession. Murray, too, refuses to go gently into the night. A week on, he has his hip resurfaced, embarking on another journey to become the only singles player on tour with a metal implant. The stadium that night willed him back to life. He had worked so hard to prove he wasn’t a villain that he had forgotten the sounds reserved for a hero. He could hear them now, and another return would mean he could keep hearing them.
Olivia Cappucini’s Resurfacing isn’t just any behind-the-scenes documentary. Like Andy Murray himself, the film never pretends to know what it sets out to achieve. It starts out in January 2018, on the eve of his first surgery, as the chronicler of a champion’s comeback; he is expected to play Wimbledon in July. The timeline is short and sweet. July comes and goes, and the film soon turns into a psychological portrait of an athlete in decline. It looks resigned to his fate: We see what tennis means to him, and why he’s still holding on. A year passes, and the film builds up to a sad but grand goodbye in Australia. If anything, it has by now captured the premature end of an era – of a scrappy Scot who raged and raged against the dying of light. But when Murray decides to give it yet another shot, the film, too, is just as surprised. Maybe a little more, it thinks. So it starts again, trains again, hurts again, remembers again, and builds up again to a grass-court comeback, towards an ending that has snowballed into a culmination of thwarted beginnings.
In doing so, Resurfacing inadvertently hints at another dimension to its title. It doesn’t just allude to the surgical procedure and a literal return to action; it is also an examination of an athlete who is driven by the need to resurface his own limits. At times, the film isn’t even aware of how its access to a weakened Murray actually reveals the complex consequences of his inspiration. He is indecisive because he has spent so long proving critics wrong that proving himself wrong has become an uphill battle. Perhaps it’s fitting that his mid-speech turn that Melbourne night, like his entire tennis career, came as a reaction to other people. To the noise. To other factors.
In a voice note, Murray mentions that tennis was an escape from the trauma of the Dunblane school massacre – he was one of several children who took cover in a classroom the day a man named Thomas Hamilton gunned down 16 kids and a teacher. His parents soon divorced, his brother left home, leaving a young Murray to react by embracing the world’s loneliest sport. (The film, to its credit, amplifies the loneliness of tennis – repeating rehab routines, having him do video diaries and speak to a camera as if he were alone in a room full of his team members). The Andy Murray that won a first Grand Slam in 2012 after losing four consecutive finals was also a reaction: a teenage Murray was often criticized for being mentally and physically fragile, with the media convinced that he would never be able to overcome that last hurdle. Hiring a taskmaster like Ivan Lendl was a response to the perils of becoming another “Almost Andy” after Roddick. Similarly, Murray’s momentous 2016 season was a reaction to expert opinion that he would never be World no. 1 in the age of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The desire to be the foremost male player in the sport was so relentless that Murray played almost every single tournament – including a full European clay season, the Rio Olympics, a Davis Cup semi-final and a full Asian hard-court swing – to capitalize on top-ranked Djokovic’s dip in form. Murray reached 12 out of 14 finals in a six-month streak across surfaces, won 9 of them, defeated both Nadal and Djokovic on clay, and elevated his game with a ferocity that evoked an all-or-nothing sprint to the finish line.
Murray ended the season as the best on the planet. But most of all, his damaged hip was a direct reaction to a brutal 2016 schedule. In many ways, the pursuit of immortality – of wanting to be the man that breaks the ‘Big 3’ monopoly – broke Andy Murray. The 2016 effect isn’t mentioned in the documentary. But there’s a quiet sense of shock about Murray, about the way he thinks and speaks and weeps, that compels the viewer to wonder: Did he choose the glory of scaling Everest knowing that his body would have to be airlifted from the summit? Did he choose to pay the price for a temporary taste of all-time permanence?
The film believes in his inability to answer these questions. Resurfacing reveals a player who is looking to defy his potential as much as a man who is struggling to confront the fact that he has already defied his destiny. It closes without closing, content that Andy Murray will still be around, playing with a metal hip, flirting with the idea of quitting while seducing the hope of winning. Murray had only history to measure his agony against, but history doesn’t take into account the anatomy of a legacy. History doesn’t consider that some champions, in their bid to make history, choose to sacrifice the future. Icarus flew too close to the sun, but flying too low would have killed him anyway.