Emilio Sanchez: 'We had to find Andy Murray in his room and get him to train'
Academy chief recalls the days the Wimbledon champion spent at his Barcelona academy after the teenager had been told by a young Rafael Nadal about playing in Spanish sunshine
A voracious appetite for hard work has taken Andy Murray to the top, but Emilio Sanchez remembers a different time. Sanchez, in co-operation with his former doubles partner Sergio Casal, runs the academy in Barcelona where the new Wimbledon champion spent his formative teenage years.
"It was tough at the start," Sanchez recalled last week. "We had to push him. He hadn't been spending as many hours on the court back at home in Scotland as we like to do at the academy. He wasn't moving so well. We had to push him a lot."
It was at the Sanchez-Casal Academy, which Murray joined when he was 15, that the Scot made friends with Dani Vallverdu, who is now a key member of his entourage, and Carlos Mier, who used to be his room-mate.
"Andy, Dani and Carlos were very good friends but they didn't always want to work," Sanchez said with a laugh. "Sometimes we had to push them to go to practice or to do their physical work. Sometimes we had to go to Andy's room to find him and get him to come and train.
"When kids are that age you have to show them what it will take for them to make it to the top," he added. "Andy soon learned that and he quickly became a very good professional."
Murray might never have gone to Barcelona but for a conversation he had with Rafael Nadal when the two boys met at the European Under-16 Team Championships in Andorra. Nadal told a wide-eyed Murray about his life back in Majorca, where he trained in the sun and practised with Carlos Moya, one of the world's top players. Murray practised with his brother, Jamie, his mother, Judy, and a few county-level players when the Scottish weather relented or when he could play indoors.
When he returned home Murray told his mother: "Rafa's out in the sun all day. He hardly goes to school and he's playing four-and-a-half hours a day. I'm playing four-and-a-half hours a week. It's not enough." Judy took her younger son to have a look around the Sanchez-Casal Academy. Sanchez, who won the last of his three Grand Slam doubles titles in 1990, invited the 15-year-old to play a match against him.
"At first I didn't think he was a proper player," Sanchez recalled. "He was tall and skinny and he didn't really look like he could play. But when we started he had this look as if to say, 'I think I'm better than you. I want to beat you.' I just couldn't find a way to get the ball past him. When I pushed harder and attacked, he just defended well. When I brought him into the net he hit good volleys."
Murray, who beat Sanchez 6-3 6-1, knew immediately that Barcelona was where he wanted to be. Sanchez said that once he had settled into the more strenuous regime the Scot became a model student.
"From his very early days with us he was always looking to improve and I've seen that continue throughout his career," Sanchez said. "He has a very good team around him now, but in his early days he was always looking for a better trainer, better people to work with, anything that could take him up a level.
"There are not many players who do that. They keep the same team around them. Andy's also made some big changes to his game over the years. He has his own way of doing things. But I think the biggest fight he had was with himself."
Sanchez said Murray's "fight with himself" involved a constant battle with his emotions. He believes winning that fight is what has turned him into a double Grand Slam champion.
"I think he's the same player as he was a year ago, but today he's much better mentally and especially emotionally," Sanchez said. "He has always been a brilliant player, as he'd shown by making Grand Slam finals, but to win he needed to play with a bit more calm. You still see him get a little angry sometimes and emotional, but it never lasts long. When he used to do that before, he would be like that for longer and opponents took advantage of it."
Sanchez believes that Ivan Lendl's appointment as Murray's coach at the end of 2011 was the turning point. "I think Ivan has been outstanding for Andy," he said. "I think they match perfectly and have very similar personalities. He's done a great job. He's helped Andy to cut out easy mistakes and play every point. I have to give him so much of the credit."
He added: "I think Andy always had the potential to get to the top. He was always talking about being the best and he only wanted to win. He broke through a lot of barriers and he was always looking ahead, always wanting to try to improve."
All those years of work have paid off in the past 12 months as Murray has won Olympic gold, his first Grand Slam title at the US Open and now Wimbledon. Sanchez was thrilled by what he saw on Centre Court last Sunday as Murray beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
"Andy was very clever," Sanchez said. "In difficult moments he was very aggressive and for the rest of the time he was playing more his game. I thought he could have been even more aggressive at times, but he managed the match well. Now that he's won Wimbledon I think he has a great future ahead of him in the next few years."
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