In all those years when he appeared to be on the brink of greatness but could never quite make the final leap, Andy Murray kept insisting that he would not be playing his best tennis until he reached his mid-twenties. How right he was.
At 26 the Wimbledon champion is the holder of two Grand Slam titles and is the reigning Olympic champion. The world rankings say that Novak Djokovic is the best player on the planet, but Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, is not the only one who might contest that claim.
As befits a player who never ceases to work on his game and his fitness, Murray's progress, from the day he won his first senior match at Queen's Club eight years ago, has been steady but relentless. He has taken time to scale the heights – since Arthur Ashe won Wimbledon in 1975, only the 29-year-old Goran Ivanisevic has been an older first-time champion at the All England Club – but now that he is there the future holds the promise of many more such moments.
Murray knew from his early days on the Tour as a wiry young man prone to cramping that he would not peak physically for a good few years. "When I first came on the Tour I wasn't particularly strong," Murray reflected last week in the wake of his historic Wimbledon triumph. "I was weak, if anything. I had the game, but you can't work so hard in the space of a year that you just become massive and unbelievably fit. It takes time to build that up. You'll get injured if you work too hard too soon.
"I knew that when I got into my mid-twenties I'd be fitter and that's helped. It's also about maturing. I wasn't that mature when I was 18 or 19. I was still young and I was struggling to deal with some of the things that came with it. Now I'm dealing with it much better."
Murray even took his time to develop a desire to win Wimbledon. "When you're growing up, some people say, 'I want to win Wimbledon.' But you don't really understand what that means until you get there and you're playing in the event.
"It would have been when I was around 18 or 19 that I started to think a bit more about it. When I played at Wimbledon for the first time I got a taste of it. That was when I really wanted to win it."
Now that he has climbed the summit Murray faces the challenge of staying there. Although the succession to the current Big Four is far from clear – the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Bernard Tomic and Milos Raonic have all threatened to make breakthroughs but have yet to realise their potential – Murray expects that the competition at the very top will remain as fierce as ever.
Djokovic, who is one week younger than the Scot, is likely to be a major rival for years to come, and the Scot believes it is far too early to dismiss the chances of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
"Rafa came back and made nine finals in a row, won the French Open and for sure he wasn't 100 per cent fit when he was playing at Wimbledon," Murray said. "He's 27 and if he stays healthy then he's going to be at the top of the game for a long time. He has a great record against everyone at the top of the game.
"I think Roger will stay there or thereabouts in all of the Slams, maybe just not as consistently as he was in the past, because it's impossible to keep that up for so long.
"The fact that he did it for 10 years was amazing."
Murray said he had no target in mind for the number of Grand Slam titles he might win in the future. "I just want to try to win the next one," he said. "I hope that's how it is for the rest of my career. I just don't see a point in setting a number on it. I just want to try and win the next Grand Slam I play in and prepare for each one like it's my last.
"I'm competing against some of the best players ever. I've played them many times and had some great matches with them. I'm just happy that I've been able to win some of these tournaments."Reuse content