IF there is one quality which separates the great sportsperson from merely the very good then it is consistency.

 

The Vital C, as I call it, is the one attribute that everyone in sport covets. Preferably you want to be consistently good but at the very least you do not want to be inconsistently average.

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Yesterday was the 30th birthday of Sir Andy Murray and Scotland’s greatest ever sportsman, in my opinion, had a magnificent 2016 which saw him win a second Olympic gold medal and a second Wimbledon title. He thus become the first player to win a Grand Slam, the ATP World Tour Finals, the men’s singles at the Olympic Games and a Masters 1000 titles in the same calendar year.

The key to his success was sheer consistent brilliance. No wonder he finished the season as a thoroughly merited world No 1.

As someone who always thought that Murray would get better the older he became, I completely disagree with those pundits who are trying to make out that Murray at 30 will no longer have the motivation and desire to carry on at the very top of world tennis.

Obviously as a husband with a young daughter he will want to spend more time with his family but there is no diminishing in his desire to be the very best player in the world.

He has had a poor 2017 so far, at least by his standards, but the shingles that he suffered earlier in the year plus that recent elbow injury have really stopped him getting back to his very best.

A few days from now, Novak Djokovic will also become 30 which will mean that all four of the world’s top players of recent years, Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, are now all in their fourth decade. But they only need to look at the extraordinary Serena Williams for evidence that age is no barrier to success.

The American has won 10 grand slam titles since turning 30 and while obviously it becomes more difficult to compete at the very highest level as you progress up the age ladder, and only 10 per cent of of grand slams have been won by players over 30, Williams has shown that it can be done – so has Federer, who was 35 when he won the Australian Open this year.

What Murray needs more than anything now is not to worry about his age, but to work hard on regaining the relentless consistency of last year. I for one am absolutely sure that by the time Wimbledon comes around he will be back to his very best. In fact, he may even up the gears considerably in time for the French Open.

Clay is not his favourite surface by a long chalk but before anybody writes off Murray before he goes to Roland Garros, they should consider that he has actually won 15 out of his 20 matches in 2017 and he has this week in Rome to practice for the French Open. It would really help if he could get his service back to full blast, and hopefully that elbow problem will disappear.

The vital C is something that all teams search for, too, and there is no question that this year Celtic have been by far the most consistent squad on these islands, even more so than Chelsea.

I am always amazed that there should be any denigration of Celtic’s achievement in cantering to the title, for while the Hoops have vastly more resources than anyone else in the Premiership, no other league winner of any stature in Europe – by that I mean Champions League participants – has to play its nearest domestic competitors four times in the league in the season, and that is why if Celtic do become the Invincibles by winning their final two matches that then it will really have been a quite remarkable attainment.

Chelsea didn’t have to play Spurs or Arsenal four times, but Celtic met Aberdeen and Rangers on four occasions each without defeat and if they can just make it to the end of the season unbeaten they should be recognised for their unsurpassable consistency.

Speaking of the Vital C, it was wonderful to see Lewis Hamilton regain his form in the Spanish Grand Prix at the weekend. By common consent Barcelona gave us one of the best races in years and set up a fantastic season between Sebastien Vettel and Hamilton as they race for the world championship.

Mercedes versus Ferrari and two great drivers – I predict it will go all the way to the line, and that is manna from heaven from an old petrolhead who revelled in the battles between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and between Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen, whom the German always rated as his best opponent. When it is as good as it was on Sunday, Formula One can be quite addictive and you really couldn’t take your eyes off the screen.

So let’s have much more of that sporting consistency, though it should never be measured just in terms of the number of games or races won for it is an almost indefinable quality, especially when drivers, for instance, are so dependent on their cars. You look at Real Madrid’s record in the late 50s, and the nine-in-row achievements of Celtic and Rangers and the fabulous consistency of Barcelona in recent years and you wonder why all teams cannot do the same. But if I could explain to the world of sport how to get the Vital C and keep it, I’d be writing this column from my private beach in Barbados.