I can win it, says injury-free Murray after friendly draw
British No 1 believes all-round game can take him further than quarter-final date with Nadal
The reassuring news for his myriad supporters is that when last seen, at ease in a Wands-worth health centre on Thursday evening, Andy Murray pronounced himself fit and eager for tomorrow's starting gun for Wimbledon 2008. Furthermore, without sounding the least bit cocky, Murray reckons he has a chance of winning it.
The latest in Murray's seemingly endless sequence of injury scares, this time over a sprained thumb, has evaporated following some strenuous practice sessions and a couple of exhibition matches. Surely nothing else can go wrong in the remaining 24 hours, but plenty of cotton wool and the presence of the St John Ambulance might do no harm, since Andy himself concedes agreeably: "I seem to spend most of my time flat on my face." This time last year he was, metaphorically at least, flat on his back, nursing a wretched wrist problem which wiped out the entire grass-court season and effectively wrecked a year which had been so full of promise.
This has been the comeback season, with careful progress back up the ranking list to his present position of 11th, which he regards as satisfactory. Now, though, there is the requirement for a big push at the biggest tournament of them all, aided by a friendly draw which sees him pitched into a section containing lots of clay-court specialists, although ending up with the greatest clay-courter of them all, Rafael Nadal. A clash with Nadal could not occur, however, before the quarter-finals, and progress to that stage would entitle Murray to congratulate himself on a good Wimbledon.
The lad himself reckons he could do even better. "I think I have a chance of winning," he said. "There are the three huge favourites [Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic], but there are others besides [Andy] Roddick and me who have a chance. People like [Richard] Gasquet, who could beat any of the top players on a given day."
For one thing, reckons Murray, he has improved immeasurably since his last appearance on the lawns of the All England Club two summers ago. "My net game, my positioning at the net, is way better than it was. And when it goes in, my first serve is a huge weapon. Being able to return and come into the net has also made a big difference. I spent too much time in the past a long way behind the baseline.
"I am more of an all-rounder now compared to the majority of the top players. I counter-punch and can be aggressive."
In the learned opinion of John McEnroe, the surge of Djokovic has put Murray and others in that age group in the shade. "Murray's best Grand Slam result so far is fourth round," said McEnroe. "He should be doing better than that, and now would be a good time to prove it. In the past you could have made a strong argument that [Murray] would win a Slam, but it is hard to look past the top three guys. Djokovic has the whole package, while Murray doesn't seem to be able to put away some of these guys when he needs to."
With the recent recruitment to his PR team of Stuart Higgins, a former editor of The Sun, Murray has blossomed in interview sessions, not ducking questions any more and keeping a tight rein on that infamous short fuse. He was even happy to digress briefly from the details of his Wimbledon preparations to talk about his girlfriend, Kim Sears, and what she means to the overall picture.
"I had never had a serious relationship before. Everyone says to me married life is hard, because you spend every day with the same person. I do a lot of travelling, don't see Kim that much, so obviously when I come home I value the time spent with her more."
That presence, and the fact that Murray will be based at his London flat during Wimbledon, has to be a big plus as he prepares for the most demanding couple of weeks of his career. To overcome the possibility of pre-match nerves, he says, he likes to surround himself with people to talk to "because it makes more sense than locking yourself in a room, when you tend to think about the match too much". Coverage of the football from Europe has not been rewarding for him, though. "I lost a little bit of money, but I mean, Portugal losing to Switzerland. Since that day I haven't watched much."
In the Remaking of Murray the once ever-present cap has been discarded, lessening the back-alley appearance, though he comes in for a chiding from McEnroe about the state of his shorts: "With those long, baggy pants you can't see how strong his legs are." As for the cap, Andy said that until the Artois Championships at Queen's Club he had only once played without his cap, when he forgot to put it in his bag at San Jose. "I have just had my hair cut, so I thought it would be nice not to keep it covered up." So for Murray it will be a capless, but hopefully not winless, Wimbledon.
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