Andy Murray slices through the spin: Winning is all
As his annual date with destiny looms, Britain's Wimbledon champion-in-waiting insists that nothing matters to him except making history, writes Paul Newman
Sunday 19 June 2011
Andy Murray has given up tennis. He used to think it was cool but he took offence when he saw himself described as "slice master". Besides, he finds the game too hard these days. Instead he has taken up football.
We are talking here about computer games, which Andrew Barron Murray, like many a tennis player,knows a thing or two about. After all, you need to find ways of passing the time during rain delays.
"I normally play football games," Murray said last week. "I'm not very good at the tennis games. And also my character is not that good. On one of the games, everyone's got a characteristic. Roddick's is 'powerful serve' and Rafa's will be 'huge forehand'. Mine is 'slice master'." He grimaced and then laughed. "I wasn't happy with that at all. Actually the games now have got way better. They're much harder. Before, you just used to ram the button and the ball went in. Now you have to direct it a bit. I always used to play as Roddick because I worked out how to just hit aces on every point."
Would the slice master now be tempted to play himself? "If I had the chance to play now, yes. That's something that for me would have been really cool when I was a kid. I always used to play the tennis games when I was growing up – and now I'm in some of them."
Sitting in a quiet room at Queen's Club in west London, Murray was in a relaxed mood as he looked ahead to the next fortnight only a few miles down the road. The weight of expectation on a world-class British player at Wimbledon is greater than on any other player anywhere in the world, but Murray thrives on it.
"Once the tournament starts, I do enjoy it," he said. "The thing that energises me is the chance to win Wimbledon. When I first started out, I wasn't playing to be Wimbledon champion, I was playing just to get the chance to play at Wimbledon. Now I have the chance to compete for the tournament."
Murray said he had learned from other high-profile people in sport, like the boxer David Haye and the Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho, about coping with pressure. "Boxers say stuff that's just outrageous," he said. "People don't like them for it, but they don't really care. They're doing that just to get under the skin of their opponent or to wind them up. If their opponent's just thinking about hitting them rather than their tactics then they will make mistakes.
"I spoke to Mourinho very briefly about it when I met him [in Los Angeles last year] and he was saying you've just got to enjoy it [pressure]. It's always going to be there, so just get on with it and have fun. It's just part of what we have to do."
In recent weeks Murray has looked almost as calm on the court as he has off it. You sense that the kettle might boil over when the temperature rises, but at the Aegon Championships there was barely a scowl or cry of anger as he followed up the best clay-court season of his life to become the first home player to win the Queen's Club title more than once since Sir FrancisGordon Lowe, a second baronet and the son of an MP, triumphed in 1913, 1914 and 1925.
"I think anger and frustration aren't good things, but I know that everyone who plays the sport gets angry and frustrated," Murray said. "There's picking times to do it. When you're doing it from the first point to the last, if you're in that frame of mind when you're going in and you're getting pumped up when you play a good point and then you're getting disappointed or angry when you play a bad point, it takes its toll over the course of four or five sets. That's something that I've needed to work on."
It helps that Murray is happier with the people around him. While Miles Maclagan and Alex Corretja, his former coaches, remain friends, the Scot knew the arrangement was breaking down professionally. He parted company with Maclagan last summer and split with Corretja after this year's post-Australian Open slump, when he failed to win a set in four defeats. "That time was really bad," Murray said. "I felt poor on the court. I didn't feel mentally in the right place."
Murray's current coaching set-up may not be ideal in terms of the availability of the personnel, but for the moment he is comfortable. As a member of the Adidas stable the world No 4 takes advantage of the company's team of coaches, particularly the highly respected Darren Cahill, who has worked with Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt. The Australian has been helping Murray over the last week, though he is not around much during a Grand Slam tournament because of his broadcasting commitments and he cannot offer assistance when the Scot is preparing to meet another Adidas player.
"I think a lot of it comes down to me becoming more responsible for everything that I do in terms of my diet, the way that I train, the things that I work on on the court," Murray said. "A lot of the times before I wasn't letting people know how I was feeling. It boils up and the frustration spills over on the court. Now I have a better discussion about tactics. I always initiate how I feel I'm going to play against a player and what I'm going to do. That's definitely helped with it. I feel a bit calmer going in knowing that the tactics are my responsibility, not just the coach's."
If Murray is to end Britain's 75-year wait for a Wimbledon champion he knows he will have to play better than ever, as the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have taken the sport across new boundaries. "In Rome last month I said to the guys that I work with that I felt like tennis had gone to a different level, physically," Murray said. "Everyone's improving. I feel like the game is so much quicker now. The athletes are just unbelievable. I need to keep up with that. I need to be working harder than these guys to give myselfthe psychological edge.
"One of the reasons I got up there in the first place was that when I changed the way I was working in the gym and on the court, I got the rewards straight away. I've been doing a lot of the same training the last couple of years but now I need to take it to another level, to improve that training, improve my diet, improve everything to keep up with those guys and to become better than them. All of them are playing great tennis."
In a fortnight's time the Wimbledon champion will be handed a cheque for £1.1m, but the money would mean little to a 24-year-old who has already won more than £10m. "I'd pay all the prize money back for a Wimbledon win," Murray said. "When I'm not playing the money is something I'm conscious of, how I'm investing it, the right things to do with it, but it's not something you think about when you're on that court. That's not what makes you nervous. It's not like: 'Oh, this is for an extra 10 grand or 20 grand.' I'm playing for history."
Murray in SW19
2005 Third Round As a wild card ranked 312, beats George Bastl and 14th seed Radek Stepanek. Loses in five sets in the third round to David Nalbandian.
2006 Fourth Round Beats Nicolas Massu, Julien Benneteau and world No 3 Andy Roddick before succumbing to that year's Australian Open finalist, Marcos Baghdatis.
2007 A damaged wrist keeps Murray out of the French Open and Wimbledon.
2008 Quarter-finals Straight-sets victories against Fabrice Santoro and Xavier Malisse before beating Tommy Haas in four. In the fourth round, comes from two sets down to defeat Richard Gasquet, only to lose in straight sets to Rafael Nadal in quarters.
2009 Semi-finals As second seed he reaches last four, losing narrowly to Andy Roddick.
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