Murray: 'When I'm back out on centre court again I hope I'll feel great'
Despite an alarming dip in form, Andy Murray tells Paul Newman this can still be his year – not least because his rivals are in the same boat Andy Murray tells Paul Newman how returning to Wimbledon will lift a year that has gone sour since his Australian Open final defeat
Monday 21 June 2010
There is a red Ferrari outside in the pub car park, but Andy Murray has left his at home. "I love driving it," the 23-year-old Scot says in a break between his rump of longhorn beef and baked vanilla cheesecake. "Driving the car is unbelievable, it's great. It's an unbelievable car and I really enjoy it.
"I just don't really like getting out of it. You could say that it's a poser's car and I don't really like drawing attention to myself. I love driving the car, but I don't like what goes with it, so I don't really drive it as much as I would like to."
For the next fortnight, nevertheless, Britain's best tennis player for three-quarters of a century will need to become accustomed to drawing attention to himself, provided he does not make an early exit from the 124th staging of Wimbledon's Lawn Tennis Championships. Even the Queen, making her first visit to the All England Club for 33 years, will be there to see him play on Thursday, assuming that neither the weather nor Czech journeyman Jan Hajek, his first-round opponent tomorrow, spoil the royal garden party.
"I hope I start playing my best from the start," Murray said as he looked ahead to his fifth appearance at his home Grand Slam event. "Most years, even if I haven't been playing that well going into Wimbledon, I've played well there. Most of my results have been good and I feel comfortable playing there. I always enjoy being at Wimbledon. When I play on Centre Court again I hope that I'll feel great."
Murray's Wimbledons have followed a clear pattern ever since his remarkable debut at the age of 18 five years ago – when he beat Radek Stepanek, ranked 299 places above him at No 13 in the world, and led David Nalbandian, a former finalist, by two sets before losing a third-round thriller. Murray has gone one round further with every appearance, culminating in last year's semi-final defeat to Andy Roddick.
This time, nevertheless, there is a difference. For the first time, Murray enters Wimbledon with a lower world ranking than he had the previous year, having dropped one place to No 4 in the list. Some of the optimism generated by his superb form at the Australian Open at the start of this season, when he pushed Roger Federer hard before losing his second Grand Slam final to the Swiss, has evaporated.
In seven subsequent tournaments Murray's best showing has been two quarter-final appearances. He has yet to win a title this year, whereas at this stage 12 months ago he had just won his fourth tournament of the season after becoming the first Briton for 71 years to win at Queen's Club. This year, he was beaten in the third round at the Aegon Championships by American Mardy Fish, the world No 90.
Murray's usual response to adversity is to work even harder in training. The last week has been no different. He has been on the court, in the gym and on the track, running gut-wrenching 400m repetitions. In his final track session, he was planning eight 400m runs, each to be completed inside 78 seconds with the same amount of time to recover before starting off again.
"It gets pretty brutal," Murray said. "They are tough, but I do them because that's what gives me confidence. Obviously winning matches helps, but if you practise a lot and spend a lot of time in the gym, that makes me feel a lot better. The last few months it's been difficult to do that. There are obviously a lot of tournaments, week after week.
"Because I haven't played as much as I did going into a lot of the Slams last year, I would rather go into this one feeling a little bit tired, like I've spent a lot of time on the court and in the gym, rather than take it easy."
Is he concerned at how few matches he has played this year? "I don't feel it that much. Maybe some of the decisions I made in some of the matches – mistakes, slight lapses in concentration – that can be down to not playing. But because of the way the tour works, if you do win a couple of matches, or play a few matches each week, the next tournament comes around so fast that you don't really feel it that much."
Murray thinks his loss of form in the early spring may have been partly down to his disappointment at losing in the Melbourne final – a match he expected to win – but he has not felt the need to consult a sports psychologist. "I used one once and I didn't find it that beneficial," he said. "When I saw him, I didn't discuss things that were happening on the court. It ended up being what was happening off the court and what was going on with the people you're working with.
"I've never really worked with them because they tend to say the same thing. I don't think counting to 10 helps when you're playing in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam on Centre Court at Wimbledon against one of the best athletes in the world. It's not that simple. Unless you've played the sport, it's very difficult to teach people how to do it."
He added: "I don't feel as though motivation is an issue. I think it would be a worry if I don't want to work hard. The last month or so it's been a lot better, but it is very difficult to peak throughout the whole year. That's why what Rafa [Nadal] does is incredible. And Roger too, though he tends to take longer breaks than Rafa, who plays well pretty much every week. Last year, I did that pretty well. It's quite tiring."
Murray may take heart from the lack of form – and in some cases fitness – of many of the top players. Federer lost only his second match on grass in eight years last weekend, Novak Djokovic looks out of touch, Roddick is short of matchplay and even Nadal, having swept all before him during the clay-court season, saw his 24-match winning run ended by Feliciano Lopez at Queen's last week.
How does Murray assess the main contenders? "Roger has a pretty incredible record on grass, so he's obviously going to be the favourite going into Wimbledon. Roddick usually plays so well at Queen's and didn't this year. You wouldn't expect Rafa to lose to Lopez, but he could have been a bit tired. I lost 7-6 in the third set to a good grass-court player.
"It's very difficult. Rafa will probably go in the most confident because of the results that he's had this year and being the No 1 in the world. It's tough to look at grass-court form so far, as it's only one tournament."
Murray has spent much of the last week working on his grass-court tactics. Having found a near-perfect balance between defence and attack in Australia at the start of the year, he has looked less confident ever since he experimented with a more aggressive style in his next tournament in Dubai in February. He is a natural counter-puncher, at ease on the baseline, but he can volley superbly, has a big serve and has proved in the past that he has the game to succeed on grass.
"I think once I get to the net I feel relatively natural once I'm there, but it's a question of making sure you pick the right times to come forward," he said. "It's a decision-making thing. It's definitely not something that you can teach."
He agreed he had been happiest with his game at the start of the year. "I played some really nice tennis at the net, not only at the Australian Open but also at the Hopman Cup, but my tennis since then hasn't been particularly good. It wasn't down to my transition game – it was the basics. All the things I normally do well haven't been as good."
Does winning a Grand Slam title become more important as the years go by? "It's been important to me for a long time. When I played the juniors, I wanted to win the junior Grand Slams. When I moved into the seniors, when you play in them for the first time you start to understand how special they are.
"It becomes your priority throughout the year, though when you first come on the tour, every tournament is huge and you love it. You love being around all the top players and you love watching them and being in the locker room with Federer and Roddick and Rafa. It's great. The Slams are very important to me, and have been for the last few years. I want to win one."
Federer: Murray will raise game in a Slam
Roger Federer yesterday named Andy Murray as one of the favourites to win Wimbledon, despite the Scot's indifferent form since he lost to the Swiss in the Australian Open final.
"To some degree, I think it's been a bit of a disappointing last few months for me, for [Novak] Djokovic and for Murray, but I think Murray played incredible tennis at the Australian Open," Federer said.
"Here we are again at Grand Slam play. You have to maybe ignore a little bit what happened in between and remember the last time you played a best-of-five set match. This is when he was very tough. I think that's maybe why it favours the big guys. Andy's obviously one of them."
Other Britons in SW19
Andy Murray, 23
The Scot has twice reached a Grand Slam final – losing in the US Open in 2008 and the Australian Open this year. 2009
Murray lost to Andy Roddick in last year's semi-final, his best showing in four years of competing at SW19. He reached the third round on his debut in 2005.
Jamie Baker, Age: 23. World ranking: 259.
Only other Briton in men's draw has worked tirelessly to rebuild career after rare blood disease, but has won only four matches at Challenger level this year. Likely to be key member of British Davis Cup team against Turkey next month.
Elena Baltacha, Age: 26. WR: 52.
Has earned direct entry to main draw through her ranking for first time after best year of her career. Reached quarter-finals in Eastbourne last week after wins over Li Na (world No 10) and Jie Zheng (24). Proven performer on grass.
Anne Keothavong, Age: 26. WR: 155.
Broke into world's top 50 for first time last summer only to suffer second serious knee injury. Out for six months but returned in February and has made steady progress. Has won only twice in nine previous appearances at Wimbledon.
Katie O'Brien, Age: 24. WR: 130.
Only 5ft 6in and 10st but has worked hard on strength and fitness. Made world's top 100 last year and played in Grand Slam event by virtue of ranking for first time at 2010 Australian Open. One win in previous six Wimbledon appearances.
Mel South, Age: 24. WR: 237.
Reached world's top 100 last February but has won two matches in a row only twice this year. Beat Francesca Schiavone, current French Open champion, and then world No 14, in first match at Wimbledon in 2006, but has not won there since.
Laura Robson, Age: 16. WR: 234.
Won junior Wimbledon in 2008 and took set off Daniela Hantuchova, then world No 32, on senior debut at All England Club last year. Has played increasing number of senior tournaments and won three matches at recent Aegon Classic at Edgbaston.
Heather Watson, Age: 18. WR: 249.
Up 95 places in world rankings after four victories over higher-ranked players in Eastbourne last week. Won US Open junior title last year but now playing only in senior events. Based at Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida. Wimbledon debut.
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