Body of evidence grows for Team Murray as Scot confirms potential

Waving to the Centre Court crowd, Andrew Murray walked back to his chair and showed his annoyance after wilting in the inaugural fifth set of his fledgling career by kicking his Fred Perry cap. "Murray! Murray! Murray!" roared 14,000 converts to the 18-year-old Scot's cause, demonstrating faith in his future.

The evidence of Murray's progress to the third round at Queen's Club and the third round at Wimbledon in the past three weeks suggests that here is a genuine contender in the making, a player who may fill the void left - perhaps already - by Tim Henman.

Thankfully, the latest hope in a blighted corner of British sport made sure to stop and pick up his cap before taking his leave after losing on Saturday to David Nalbandian - the sturdy 18th seed from Argentina - 6-7, 1-6, 6-0, 6-4, 6-1.

Sponsorship is essential to funding Murray's quest to turn dreams into reality, potential into prize-money (he has made a total of £34,615 from his exploits at Queen's and Wimbledon).

The Lawn Tennis Association, which has been criticised for throwing money at underachievers, ought to consider helping Murray to finance his physical well-being in terms of a travelling fitness trainer and a physiotherapist. His game is far more mature than his physique, and many great players, such as Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf, learned somewhat late in their careers the value of body maintenance. Injuries happen - Murray's twisted left ankle at Queen's, for example - but the general wear and tear of competing on the ATP Tour can be relieved by constant attention to conditioning, stamina, and general welfare.

"A lot of the players are starting to travel with a physio now," Murray said, "but it is very expensive to travel with a coach and a physio, especially when you're just coming up through the rankings. I don't think people deserve to be able to travel with a physio until they get to the top."

Once Nalbandian delivered one of his pounding forehand drives to save a break point in the opening game of the third set, Murray began to wilt. Though his spirited play enabled him to lead, 4-2, in the fourth set, it seemed clear that he was barely hanging on, as gamely as he could. "My right butt was so tight at the end of the fourth set that I couldn't put any pressure on my leg," Murray said. "And when I did it just felt like it was crumbling. I couldn't move anything. It wasn't cramp.

"I don't think I've finished growing yet, because I grew quite a lot at the start of the year, and I was growing about three or four weeks ago. It might be something to do with it, but physically there's work to be done.

"Everybody has to realise that it's my first five-set match. For four sets I played against a guy who's top 20 in the world, and I was running around all over the court and I got tired. I don't think I'm in awful shape physically, I just need a bit more time to develop."

Returning to the subject of caps, Mark Petchey - whom Murray and his mother, Judy, would like to become his full-time coach - is wearing four. As well as being Murray's interim coach, Petchey is the LTA's manager of men's national training and a Sky tennis commentator. He was paid by The Sun to wear the fourth, bright red cap, during Murray's matches at the All England Club. As Murray's mum said: "When you're trying to put a team together to look after Andy, every contribution from sponsors helps." Judy Murray, formerly Scotland's national coach, wants to take a step back from her son's career and allow his support team to continue the job. "As a coach, you see a player's level of play suddenly begin to take off, and that's what's happening with Andrew now."

Having raised his world ranking last week from 312 to just outside 200, Murray, barring a sudden slump, will be ranked high enough to enter the qualifying tournament for the US Open at the end of August.

Although Britain will be without a representative in the singles events in the second week for the first time since 1991, Murray's first Wimbledon adventure will continue today. Having delighted spectators on Courts Two, One and Centre Court - where the interest was such that a man from New York tried to gain entry by flashing a sheriff's badge - Murray is scheduled to play mixed doubles on Court Three. He will partner Shahar Peer, an 18-year-old from Israel, ranked 84th in the WTA singles.

Next stop after Wimbledon is the International Tennis Hall of Fame - well, at least he has been given a wild card for the ATP Tour grass-court tournament in Newport, Rhode Island, where Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, will be the defending champion.

Murray plans to continue his summer in the United States, playing on rubberised concrete courts similar to those at Flushing Meadow, New York. Before the end of September, he expects to be back training at the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona, wondering whether or not to invest in an apartment. "I stay in a room at the academy on my own with a bed and nothing else."

When the Scot made his Davis Cup debut against Israel in Tel Aviv in February this year, a young man was spotted wearing a T-shirt bearing the words: "I've got a black belt for keeping it real." It could well have been Murray.

Comments