Grace under pressure: it’s a phrase reached for whenever someone succeeds when the odds are stacked.
It was the phrase Ernest Hemingway wrote to describe courage.
There are weekly examples of courage — physical and mental — in the sporting sphere.
Character development and success born of failure is more rare, and more interesting.
There has never been a better depiction of the stresses of professional sport than Andre Agassi’s Open: an autobiography.
A prodigy pushed on by his competitive father virtually from the cradle, Agassi retired as one of the most-loved figures in sport; only one of seven players to have won all four grand slam tournaments, renowned for his grace and sportsmanship, one of tennis history’s greatest.
His autobiography told of a darker life and agonised nights of the soul, of the sometime-agony of just getting on the court because of the physical toll.
It’s forgotten now that the young Agassi was so afflicted by stress and fear of winning and failure, that he made himself a joke figure to cope.
That was the Agassi of long hair, coloured clothing and inane comments, who refused to play the Australian Open for eight years (ultimately his most successful grand slam tournament) and Wimbledon because of its all white clothing policy.
The Agassi at the end of his career was unrecognisable in character and performance from the young prodigy.
The transformation was remarkable: it bespoke enormous strength and sensitivity.
There has never been a greater sporting collapse than Jana Novtona’s in the 1993 Wimbledon singles final against Stefi Graf.
After losing the first set 7-6 in a tie-breaker, Novotna had Graf on toast, winning the next set 6-1 and then leading 4-1 and two game points on serve in the decider.
Fear of winning..from there Novotna melted and Graf won the next five games in the blink of an eye.
There might never be a collapse like it again.
Novotna collapsed in tears at the presentation.
Right there, you would have written her off for all time.
That she made the 2007 final before losing to Martina Hingis was a real achievement.
That she defeated Hingis in a semi-final before winning the 1998 final against Nathalie Tauziat was a triumph over her previous mental frailty that can’t be overstated.
After blazing away early and smashing the English attack on the 1989 Ashes tour, the young Steve Waugh was dropped from the Australian cricket team after being humiliated by the West Indies fast bowlers.
His average had descended to the mid-30s and he could be written off as a talented player without the steel to succeed against the toughest attacks in tough times.
Waugh’s career scarcely has a parallel in cricket.
He fought his way back, retired with an average of 50 and was really a football captain of a cricket team.
Waugh was the steeliest, most unyielding player of them all.
No one could have predicted the young, discarded Waugh would become the later Waugh.
Failure produced character too big for any kitbag.
Ditto for Matthew Hayden.
The young prolific-scoring opener from Queensland had a short first stint in the Australian team.
He made one century that was a contender for worst Test ton, and not long after shouldered arms to a ball on middle stump in another Test.
Hayden was bowled, but said there was nothing wrong with his judgment and he hadn’t made a mistake.
He was dropped.
Right there, you would have written him off as someone in denial, incapable of learning .
Hayden was to prove he was more than meant for the top — he was meant for greatness.
Character..he developed it in batfuls.
Which leads inevitably to Andy Murray’s triumph over himself and Novak Djokovic in their five-set US Open men’s singles epic.
Four times he had been to a grand-slam singles final and four times he had failed (failure being a relative term in this case, if ever it was relative).
He had three crushing obstacles over the net at the Open.
First, it seemed he was just born at the wrong time.
Dojokovic, Roger Feder and Rafael Nadal had taken tennis to a level it had never been before, winning 29 of the previous 30 grand slam singles finals between them.
In another era, Murray might have had several grand-slam titles already. He was good, but a rung below the triumvirate.
Second, he had that crushing weight of history, that 76 years since Fred Perry had won a men’s title for Britain.
Every half-decent British player since Perry, players like Roger Taylor and Tim Henman, had carried that burden, and they weren’t half as good as Murray.
Third, Murray carried the weight of knowing he’d been there four times and had come up short.
When the supreme Djokovic fought back to level from two sets down, it seemed Murray would come up short again, to be condemned to always come up short, to earn that dreaded tag ‘‘choker’’.
His achievement in overcoming himself and Djokovic can never be overstated.
If he should never win another title, it will remain one of the great achievements in sporting history.