Hello Andy. I hope preparations are going well for the final leg of the 2014 season, which starts in China for you shortly. This is a strange time of the season, with perhaps little in the way of top-level Grand Slam glory. However, there are some pretty high-profile tournaments to win, and there is a chance to build a good platform for the following year. Many will remember the role Ivan Lendl played in your history-making 2012 season, but it's also worth remembering your strong end to 2011 setting things in motion. I still think the second of your three wins during that autumn - the 2011 Japan Open - was one of your finest; you played brilliantly in the final, even if maybe one could argue that Rafael Nadal was not quite in 'Grand Slam mode' when you beat him 3-6 6-2 6-0.
Of course the news in the past couple of days has been less about tennis in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai and more about politics in the United Kingdom. On the morning of the Scottish Referendum on independence (Thursday September 18th), you publicly came out in support of the pro-independence "yes" campaign in a short post on Twitter. This quickly generated some quite strong feelings on both sides of the debate, and has become a hot talking point going forward. Sadly, I hear that the strength of feeling led to some unacceptable and frankly disgusting comments on social media. I obviously condemn this in the strongest terms.
It's a difficult one to try and articulate. Speaking purely from a personal point of view (in the interests of full disclosure I do currently work for HM Government, which is why I'm stressing that this is a personal view) from someone living outside Scotland (the so-called rUK), I wanted Scotland to remain as part of the United Kingdom. So ultimately, I suppose that any support you gave for 'yes' would broadly have been met with disappointment, and any support for 'no' broadly endorsed privately, whatever the way in which it was stated. You are of course entitled to your opinion and there is an argument commending you for putting yourself out there and coming down on one particular side.
However, even accepting that view, there is an element to this which makes me feel uncomfortable and, after some thinking, I think I've been able to pinpoint what it is. Much has been written since Thursday about how you took years to win the hearts and minds of 'middle England' and now, having done so in the last couple of years, the old suspicions and mistrust will resurface after your support for 'yes'. The point I would like to make is that this perception of you was, and has always been, far from universal in rUK. There are those of us that have supported you since your breakthrough in 2005 and, in particular, since Tim Henman's retirement left you as the main British hope and talent in 2008. We saw through all the 'anti-England' rhetoric that wrongly followed you for so many years. Many of us have friends and family, though, who - whether believing the 'anti-England' rhetoric or not - still didn't like what they saw. We tried consistently to put the case for the defence, we suffered the tough losses in Grand Slams and other major tournaments, we said 'chapeau' to those who played better on the day (tennis is not a tribal sport) while observing the gloating of non-fans on social media afterwards. We also, it must be said, were repaid in abundance by many ATP titles, Masters victories, an Olympics gold (and silver in the doubles) medal and, finally, those two Grand Slam triumphs. A huge testament to your persistence, drive and work ethic.
Yet by openly supporting the secession of Scotland (who you would then, not unreasonably in the case of a 'yes' outcome, compete for) from the United Kingdom, the indication you give is that you want no part in Britain except, presumably, to continue living here. The implication is that you give flagrant disregard to the support and emotional investment (in varying degrees, and I'm quite sure there are many in rUK who have invested more, as well as many others who have invested less, than myself) that those of us in Britain have given over the years (including when others have been more sceptical). In extremis, this could even be interpreted as not so much "thanks, but no thanks" as "thanks, but fuck off!" Thinking about this rationally, I am almost 100% certain that this was not your intention. You will no doubt point out to me that your criticism in that Thursday morning tweet was against the 'no' campaign, and that your endorsement of 'yes' was therefore not a wholesale rejection of Britain and its people, including your supporters. You may also posit that the application of this type of 'either/or' mentality to the separatism debate is precisely what you disliked about the 'no' campaign in Scotland.
However, I would argue that this issue is not confined to the referendum, and can be seen in other sporting examples. Golf will join the Olympics roster in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and, in an interview shortly after London 2012, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy was asked his views on whether he would compete for Britain or Ireland. Speaking about his feelings on the issue he said "what makes it such an awful position to be in is that I've grown up my whole life playing for Ireland under the Golfing Union of Ireland umbrella. But the fact is, I've always felt more British than Irish...I don't know [why], but I've always felt more of a connection with UK than Ireland." This was thoughtful to begin with, but it still received a strong backlash from Ireland and its golfing community. McIlroy recognised that, although he had expressed his opinions sincerely, he had failed to fully consider the hurt and puzzled disappointment his opinion would cause in an Ireland where he had been, and continued to be, well supported. A few days later, he clarified: "After everything that's happened [the interview and the backlash]...it really hit home with me how important it is for a lot of people and how important my success has been to them...It would be terrible to nearly segregate myself from one of those groups that supports me". Finally, this summer, on the eve of the Irish Open in Cork, he announced that he would play for Ireland. This was in due course backed by the Team GB Olympics golf coach, as well as the golfing community as a whole.
The key point here I think is not necessarily McIlroy's final decision (which is also slightly nuanced because golf in Ireland, up to professional level, spans both the Republic and Northern Ireland). Rather, it is that he showed that he understood the sensitivity of the issue on both sides of the debate. I think this process of communication helped make his final decision easier to digest for people on both sides, including those - like the Team GB golf coach - who (logic suggests) would have loved to have had Rory in the Team GB fold. Even though I would not have agreed with your support for 'yes', I believe (or like to think) that, had you shown an understanding of the complexity of how your decision could have been interpreted - in a sporting context - by fans in both Scotland and rUK, this would have helped myself and other people who were hoping for an outcome of 'no' (or 'yes', had you gone the other way on this issue) to better accept your decision. The alternative option, of course, is to not give an opinion on the matter - the stance you maintained until a quick tweet on the day of polling.
Instead what we had was a quick post on Twitter supporting "yes" with only a criticism of the "no" campaign's tactics (i.e. their negativity) in support. And thus instead many of your fans appear to be, if not necessarily hurt (an emotion too strong for me, though maybe not for others), then left slightly disappointed and scratching their heads that their support over the years appears to have not been considered or acknowledged at all in a decision on a topic of such magnitude. Truth be told, memories are (mostly) short and a good trait of human nature is the tendency to forgive and forget. Your commitment, work ethic and success have been a huge credit for Britain on the world sporting stage, and when the dust settles that will never be forgotten and will continue to be a source of pride for many British sporting fans (myself included). However, for a while - just for a while - what happened on Thursday seems to have stuck in the craw somewhat, for myself and many others. And there is a chance, if only a very small chance, that - whatever forgiveness happens in future - things may never quite be the same again.