Jonny Marray: Welcome back to Wimbledon's forgotten champion
Last year his life changed. But does anyone recognise him? Well, sort of...
After more than a decade as a journeyman professional, fame and fortune came late to Jonny Marray with his remarkable triumph alongside Freddie Nielsen in the Wimbledon doubles last summer. He is even recognised in the street these days, even if most people think he is the Finnish player, Jarkko Nieminen.
"I get that all the time," Marray said as he looked back on a memorable last 12 months. "I feel sorry for Jarkko about that. When we were in Monte Carlo recently and he beat Del Potro in a really good match, a few people on the walk to the restaurant stopped me, thinking I was Jarkko. I've never seen the similarity myself, but they did."
Much has changed in the last year for 32-year-old Marray, who, until the greatest moment of his career, had been thinking that it might be time to consider a life after tennis. Until 2012 he had earned an average of £21,000 a year in prize money. Last year, however, he banked more than 10 times that, thanks in large part to his cheque for £130,000 from the All England Club and £36,000 for reaching the semi-finals of the World Tour Finals in London.
Although modest Marray is not the sort to seek a champagne lifestyle, he has at least decided to replace his trusty old Ford Fiesta with a new Audi. His new-found fame also led to an invitation to the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year extravaganza and an opportunity – which he has yet to take up – to appear on A Question of Sport.
Meanwhile, the ranking points Marray earned at Wimbledon have transformed his itinerary. After years playing in Challenger tournaments in some of the game's more remote outposts, he is now ranked high enough – as the world No 16 in doubles – to play in all the Grand Slam and Masters Series tournaments. "If you're playing Challengers for points and peanuts prize money it can be a bit demoralising at times," he said.
Now Marray wants to carry on playing for as long as possible. "Winning Wimbledon obviously gave me massive belief in myself and a financial cushion that I never had before. I think that would have been the real reason to give up, because it's tiring, always worrying about winning a match just so that you can carry on.
"I love doing this for a living and everyone I speak to says you should play for as long as you can, because once you stop that's it for the rest of your life."
Marray has had a good 12 months on the court, even if there has been nothing to match his Wimbledon feats. With Nielsen, his partner at Wimbledon last summer, choosing to concentrate on singles, Marray has teamed up with Colin Fleming, whose regular partner, Ross Hutchins, is being treated for cancer. The new partnership has started to flourish and their results in the current grass-court season – they reached the quarter-finals at Queen's and last week's final at Eastbourne – bring confidence that they can excel at Wimbledon.
"It's been fantastic playing these tournaments," Marray said. "I've been playing professionally for 12, 13, 14 years, so I always wanted to play the bigger events. Having a great couple of weeks at Wimbledon enabled me to do that. I played in the Challengers for years. Making that transition and just seeing yourself as a contender in the bigger tournaments is probably the thing I've found the most difficult.
"I don't think the level of tennis is that much higher, though your opponents don't give you anything, week in week out. In Challengers it's a bit more up and down, though they're not easy to win either. Against these top guys, if you execute on the day and you back yourself, they're no better than you. But believing in myself is something I still need to work on."
Playing at the biggest tournaments has opened Marray's eyes to another world. "Everything's a lot more professional," he said. "At Challengers, for example, there's usually only one stringer and it could be a local guy who's not really up to scratch. The transportation to and from places is a lot easier at the bigger tournaments. They always pick you up and you can always get a car. You're not having to wait for a bus that goes once an hour."
Has he thought what it will be like returning this week to the scene of his finest hour? "It's definitely crossed my mind. I'm sure it will be a great experience.
"I suppose people will be more aware of who I am there. I don't think I'll be under any pressure, but it'll just be nice to go back.
"I've got great memories from there. I've enjoyed being a Wimbledon champion. There aren't many negatives to that."
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