Andy Murray has expressed his astonishment at Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s “incredible” story of watching his 2016 Wimbledon triumph in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was imprisoned in Iran for six years until her release earlier this year, having been accused of spying, a charge she and the UK denied.
She was asked to guest edit a BBC Radio 4’s Today programme during the festive period and Murray was one of her guests with the episode broadcast on Wednesday.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalled how she was given access to a TV with two channels in 2016 and matches at that year’s Wimbledon were shown with Murray triumphing at the All England Club after he beat Milos Raonic in the final.
“I think what you’ve told me is by far the strangest, most incredible story that I have been told about someone watching me. Nothing has come close to that, so that’s incredible,” Murray told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We all have our own problems, but after listening to you and speaking to you I’ll certainly make sure I’m a lot more grateful for everything that I’ve got.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe revealed watching Murray’s victory was “joyful” and made her “ecstatic” a couple of months on from her initially being detained in Iran.
She later explained how at the time she hoped to watch the former world No 1 in person at Wimbledon at the next Championships in 2017, only to spend a further five years in prison.
The 44-year-old British-Iranian dual national said Murray offered a “connection” to her life outside prison and an “escape” from her six-year detention.
Murray’s voice cracked with emotion and he paused to gather himself when they met at the Lawn Tennis Association in Roehampton for her stint as guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was freed in March, used the programme to raise the plight of others suffering at the hands of the Iranian regime, amid widespread protests in the country.
In her interview with Murray, Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “When I was first arrested I was in Evin prison in solitary confinement, and for about five months they didn’t allow me to have any books or newspapers.
“There was a TV in the cell I was in but it was off the entire time, and then at some point they decided to let me use the TV but it only had two channels.
“One of them was rubbish Iranian-made soap opera all the time, which was very low quality.
“The other one was a sports channel, which they thought, this was probably a way to just give them something but not quite something.
“Then I put it on, the first thing that was on was Wimbledon that day and that year, 2016.
“They had no idea what they had given me because I was always a big fan of you, but also there I was in solitary confinement watching the match you actually won in the end.”
Murray, 35, replied: “That makes me quite emotional hearing you speaking about that, so I appreciate you telling that to me.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalled playing an Iranian version of charades when held in a hospital ward, explaining: “My friends knew that on my list there had to be Andy Murray.
“The people who were with me in that period, they knew you even though they’d probably never heard your name before – they knew who you were, which game you won and that was quite something for me – it felt like a connection, it felt like escape.
“I was close to home all of a sudden and that was through sport, and through something that probably the Iranian government never thought that I would have that way of finding my way and connection to the life I had outside prison.”
Murray later asked Zaghari-Ratcliffe for more information about her “incredible” story, and had to pause as he said: “I find myself getting quite emotional that someone could be treated in that way and just, sorry, yeah, I’d be interested to hear it from your side, how you feel about it all.
“You seem absolutely fine now, but I’m thinking if I was in that situation or someone that I knew was in that situation I’d feel angry about that, but you seem well.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe replied: “At times I do feel very, very angry, but I guess there was a point that I decided that I should put the anger away because otherwise it will eat me up for the rest of my life.”
She said she was “disappointed more than anything else” that it took so long to be reunited with her daughter.
Murray said: “It makes all of the things I would complain about on a daily basis – my knee hurts or my back hurts or whatever – we all have our own problems, but listening to you and speaking to you I’ll certainly make sure I’m a lot more grateful for everything that I’ve got.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe later said she felt the recent protests and turmoil in Iran had set her back in her recovery.
She said: “I guess I can safely say I felt I was beginning to settle down a bit over the summer, but then in September the whole uprisings happened in Iran and I felt like I was going backwards.
“I resonated very much with what was happening in Iran because there were so many arrests and imprisonments and court cases, which basically threw me back to what I have been through.
“So I think I’m a lot behind than what I would have thought and imagined I would be.”
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