Murray: the new Perry?

The Scot has what it takes to finally break one of the great hoodoos of British sport

This is the fourth year running that I have prepared a Wimbledon men's final preview comparing Andy Murray and Fred Perry. In each of the past three years my cue to start composing was when Murray reached the semi-finals – and each time the article was dropped after he lost in the last four. Now tempting fate has paid off with Murray punishing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's mean-spirited effort to scupper my early preparation a fourth time with that fabulous win on Friday. At last the Scot really does stand on the very edge of ending what is arguably British sport's sorriest refrain: "Not since Fred Perry in 1936…"

A comparison with Perry is a natural and informative response to Murray's feat of becoming the first Briton since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the Wimbledon men's final. In considering whether the Scot can emulate Perry and become Wimbledon champion, this comparison can be broken down into three parts: the differences between the two men; the overlaps; and, most relevant to my belief that he really can win the title, the one-time difference that Murray has converted into an overlap.

The differences start with their backgrounds. Neither came from the posh end of the social spectrum but Murray cannot claim to be the working-class hero Perry was. Perry's parents, Sam and Hannah, met as shop-floor workers in a Stockport cotton mill and Fred was born in a terraced house in a poor area nearby. Only later did Sam's rise up the co-operative movement bring the family south to Ealing, where they lived in a smart middle-class enclave.

Murray's parents, Willie and Judy, were respectively, at the time of Andy's birth, owner of a small business and a tennis coach who wrote about the game for a Scottish newspaper. They lived comfortably off in Dunblane, the picturesque town whose image was to be horribly besmirched by the 1996 shootings at the school where Andy was a pupil.

Their backgrounds fed into the next major difference between them. Perry's circumstances meant he was introduced to tennis relatively late, certainly far later than Murray. Perry was 15 before he took tennis seriously. Since the move to Ealing he had played occasionally but the revelatory moment came on a family holiday to Eastbourne. Straying from the seaside, he happened upon tennis being played at Devonshire Park. He was entranced. The whole scene – players in crisp, white clothing, expensive cars parked near the courts and the tennis itself – appealed to his aspirational nature. But still table tennis detained him until he won the 1929 World Championship in Budapest aged 19.

By the time Murray was 15, he had already appeared on the radar of international agents on the look-out for future stars. He won an Orange Bowl singles title in Florida and was a regular on the International Tennis Federation's junior circuit.

Socially, too, Perry and Murray bear little in the way of similarities. Perry was one of life's natural mixers, a ladies' man compared to the lady's man Murray, who has Kim Sears constantly at his side. Perry's romantic adventures were legion: four wives, numerous Hollywood stars as escorts and a descent down knotted sheets to join a female guest in a Boston hotel. "I shiver when I think of that climb," he said.

The two screamingly obvious overlaps are talent and the desire to squeeze the last drop from it. Both men not only understood from a young age the importance of physical conditioning to maximise their special ability but also did not flinch from engaging in it unsparingly.

Perry was one of the first tennis players to take fitness seriously. The public schoolboys who dominated the game when he started considered it infra dig to exercise away from tennis. Perry was unrepentant that he thought differently. "Tennis has always been a bit of an intellectual exercise," he said. "But I want to make it a physical test, too." He built up his basic fitness by training with the Arsenal football team.

Murray has the same attitude, evidenced by the fact his entourage in the VIP box on Centre Court this past fortnight has included not one but two fitness trainers and a physio.

This concentration on physical preparation makes a potent combination when coupled with the sort of talent Perry and Murray brought with them into the world. Very early on, Perry's aptitude for striking a ball was a feature of home life: the kitchen table was co-opted as a surface off which he would strike a table tennis ball against the wall, and in the garden the side of the house was used for learning to volley, the price of a mishit being a broken pane in an adjacent greenhouse.

Murray paraded his early talent not only in how well he played but with his reading of the game. Judy Murray tells the story of taking him to watch a tournament when he was a small boy. She was amazed that rather than be excited he produced a carefully argued critique of the mistakes made by one of the players.

Finally, then, the one-time difference that is now an overlap and is the reason why Murray has a real chance of winning today.

Perry knew all along the strength around which to build his game. It was a very distinctive forehand, a legacy of his table tennis, the ball taken far earlier than any other player could manage and snapped back at great speed. "Everything I did was built on the fact that sooner or later my opponents had to hit the ball short on my forehand side," Perry said. "That was the end of the point as far as I was concerned."

Murray took the virtue of having a more varied game than Perry – a game that stands out today among the baseline automatons (and, yes, these include Djokovic and Nadal) – and turned it into a vice. He has been indecisive, never quite knowing when to switch from counterattack to attack; when to change the pace of a rally by using his priceless ability to generate pace off a slow ball; when to show he is one of the few players who can play close to the net.

Under his latest coach, Ivan Lendl, Murray seems to have found himself as a player. Lendl's undemonstrative presence – something he says he has perfected while tutoring and watching his golf-playing daughters – has apparently played its part, suiting Murray far better than Brad Gilbert's hyperactive mentoring. He has finally worked out a coherent approach, rather than one that was constantly subverted by the conflict between his game's disparate parts.

The important thing is that like the Wimbledon champion of 1934-36 Murray has finally fixed on a way of playing that he seems comfortable with. At 25, he is the same age as Perry was when he first won the title.

Jon Henderson is the author of 'The Last Champion – The Life of Fred Perry' (Yellow Jersey, £8.99)

Fred Perry's guide to winning

Train hard

Fred said: 'Train by playing grinding three-set matches.'

Murray's hitting partner is Dan Vallverdu, a member of Team Murray, a close-knit group with whom he travels.

Don't drive

Fred said: 'It affects eye focus. I used a friend as chauffeur.'

Murray is chauffeured from his Surrey home each day.

Hands off

Fred said: 'Shaking hands made me lose the feeling in my fingers.'

Murray is friendly with his fans and is unlikely to refuse a handshake.

Watch out

Fred said: 'Watching a match before going on court is always distracting.'

Murray will watch previous matches against Roger Federer.

Rub away

Fred said: 'If you need a massage you are already clapped out.'

Murray even had one mid-match against Marcos Baghdatis.

Anyone for golf?

Fred said: 'I relaxed before matches by pottering round a putting green.'

Murray prefers walking his dogs.

Spy master

Fred said: 'I got hotel staff at the Savoy to tell me what my opponent ate and how he slept.'

Murray probably knows everything there is to know about Federer.

Friends in high places

Fred said: 'I doffed my cap when I met their majesties [King George V and Queen Mary].'

Murray has keen fans in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and rumour has it the Queen will be in the royal box today.

Cucumbers are cool

Fred said: 'The best way to eat a cucumber is peel it, pour vinegar, salt and pepper over it, and throw it out a window.'

Murray's diet is rich in sushi, steak and greens, and he is teetotal.

Veronica Lee

Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
peopleJustin Bieber accuses papparrazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Life and Style
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sportWinger arrives from Real Madrid and could make debut on Saturday
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Hooked on classical: cellist Rachael Lander began drinking to combat panic attacks
musicThe cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow...
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis