Murray grows in strength but needs mental toughness to beat hard draw

One of Britain's main hopes in SW19 is still a gangly teenager. Andy Murray tells Paul Newman why expectations must remain realistic for now
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The Independent Online

Andy Murray admits that he was a bundle of nerves when he went out to practise at Queen's Club before the Stella Artois Championships earlier this month. "It's the first time I walked on to the practice court and been nervous, with my palms sweating," he said. "It didn't really feel right practising with someone like him."

While Murray is happy to admit that he remains in awe of Andre Agassi, the Scot stresses that "there are not too many guys that I really feel intimidated by". That is just as well. As he embarks on his second senior Wimbledon campaign, Murray will need all his considerable reserves of mental strength as he begins what will probably be a professional lifetime as the host nation's leading contender at the world's most famous tennis tournament.

Even if the 32-year-old Greg Rusedski is nominally the British No 1 and 31-year-old Tim Henman remains arguably the country's best player on grass, 19-year-old Murray is already seen as the country's main man. Ranked No 312 in the world when he reached the third round at Wimbledon last summer, he has since climbed to No 45 and become the fifth youngest player in history to win an ATP tournament.

Opponents have been hugely impressed. "He's already, without having the meat on his bones, in the top 50 in the world and once he gets a little bigger, a little more on his serve and a couple more weapons he's going to be dangerous," James Blake, the world No 7, said. "He moves very well. He's got great hands and that's something you can't teach and can't learn. I think he's going to be dangerous on any surface in the years to come."

Nevertheless, the last four months have not gone as Murray would have wished. At Easter he parted company with Mark Petchey, his coach, and is still looking for a replacement. Until he beat Dmitry Tursunov and Max Mirnyi in Nottingham last week - two excellent wins over fine grass-court players - he had won only three of his previous 12 matches. He has been troubled by cramp - which helped bring his downfall at Wimbledon and at Queen's last summer - and by injuries to his back and ankle.

However, all the indications are that his physical problems are simply down to the fact that he is still growing. Whereas 20-year-old Rafael Nadal has the physique of a powerful and mature man, Murray has sometimes looked like a gawky teenager, not wholly comfortable in his body. At more than 6ft 2in he is still growing, though Murray considers that to be "a pretty good height for a tennis player" and hopes he will not get too much taller.

"It's really difficult to get yourself in the best shape until you stop growing because you can get injuries," Murray says. "Obviously, when you have a slight weakness in your lower back because you're still growing, you can't push too hard or you're going to hurt yourself. I hope I'm going to stop growing this year so at the end of the year I can really get myself in my best shape."

If Murray's on-court behaviour, including occasional racket-throwing, is an indication of his tender years, there are other ways in which he shows admirable maturity. He is realistic about individual defeats, stresses that he is still finding his way and rightly points to his achievements in the last 12 months.

"Regardless of what anybody else thinks or says, if you're in the top 50 in the world when you're a teenager or under 20, it's a great achievement," Murray said. "I know my game's there. It just needs to click together. When I do find a coach, he can show me what I need to do better and improve the things that I haven't been doing well."

Therein lies the greatest challenge for Murray. He is a strong-minded individual with clear views as to how his game should develop, but the lack of a coach has been evident in his indecisive, inconsistent approach to some of his matches.

He has set his sights admirably high by approaching coaches of the calibre of Larry Stefanki and Brad Gilbert and is right not to be rushed into a decision. "I'm looking for a guy who has worked with top players and won Grand Slams with them," Murray said.

His Wimbledon draw is tough. His first opponent tomorrow will be the Olympic champion, Nicolas Massu, who is seeded No 31 and gave Roger Federer some trouble in Paris earlier this month. If he reaches the third round Andy Roddick, runner-up for the last two years, is likely to lie in wait.

Murray remains realistic. "If I play well, I'll be happy," he said. "I've got a lot more years of playing Wimbledon. If I don't do so well this year, I had a great Wimbledon last year. The expectations of people might be a little bit too big just now. I hope everybody tries to keep it in perspective."