Murray: Yes, I've got a problem. But it's not all in my head
Murray hits back angrily at critics as he 'locks in mentally' for Wimbledon
Andy Murray has grown used to the attention, the hype and even the criticism. It goes with the territory when you are Britain's best male tennis player for three-quarters of a century and Wimbledon is just around the corner. He handles most of it like the seasoned professional that he is, but for a moment last week the 25-year-old Scot's patience finally ran out.
As Murray looked ahead to his chances over the next fortnight, it was put to him that John McEnroe had suggested that the back problem with which he has been dealing of late – and which led to Virginia Wade describing him as "a drama queen" at the recent French Open – might be a mental issue as much as a physical one.
"If someone is going to say to me that my back injury is not genuine, they can come see my reports from the doctors, they can see the pictures of a needle about eight inches long in my back," a clearly agitated Murray snapped. "I'm not accepting it any more because it's not fair."
He added: "A lot of people have suggested that it hasn't been genuine, but I've a genuine injury, a genuine back problem. It's not a mental thing. Often when things do start to get better, for a little while you can be over-sensitive in that area and think, 'Oh, is that maybe right? Is that not right?' or whatever. But with my back problem, it's certainly nothing that's mental. It's something that's there."
Although Murray has steadfastly refused to specify the injury, he revealed that he had had eight pain-killing injections in his back last month before the French Open. "It's a problem I had for a while at the beginning of the year," he said. "I played through it for five months and it just got worse and then I took the injections and it feels better since I had them done."
Murray is hoping he will not need any more injections over the course of the summer. "Guys get painkillers and pain-killing injections before big events all the time and you need to just take them at the right time, because they do last for quite a long time, but you don't exactly want them to wear off," he said.
After a fortnight in which his preparations for Wimbledon have been far from ideal – he lost first time out in the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club, where he had won the title in two of the previous three years, and has had to dodge the showers to practise on grass – Murray said he would feel a sense of relief once the competition starts.
"You get more locked in mentally the closer the tournament gets," he said. "You practise without putting so much mental energy into the points. You work hard, but try and relax. You don't want to go into the tournament fatigued because you've been really stressed out in practice. That's why being at home helps.
"The people I spend time with during Wimbledon are Kim [his girlfriend, Kim Sears] and then one or two friends. My family come down, but I don't spend much time with them during the tournament. They come to watch and hang out with each other. I spend time with them when the tournament is done."
Who prepares the meals at home? "Kim normally cooks and occasionally I'll help her," he said, before adding with a smile: "I'll cut up some vegetables or something."
He added: "For the two weeks of the tournament you are trying to relax a bit on the days off, but, for me, you still have to make sure you are eating the right things and watching your diet. You have to make sure you are hydrated and taking all the vitamins and stuff. It's not like you completely switch off. You still have to do all the right things for your preparation."
After a good start to the year – in his marathon semi-final at the Australian Open he went closer to beating Novak Djokovic, the eventual champion, than Rafael Nadal did in the final – Murray had a moderate spring campaign. Since losing to Djokovic in the Miami final he failed to go beyond the quarter-finals in any of the five tournaments he played, although four were on clay, always his most challenging surface.
In Melbourne he thought he had closed the gap on the players above him. Did he feel that was still the case, or have Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer pulled away from him again over the last few months?
"To me things change in tennis on a weekly basis," Murray said. "It's about what happened last week and then what happens at Wimbledon. If I was to win Wimbledon next week everyone would say, 'There's no gap any more.' It's all about whether I can play my best tennis and if I can put all the things I've been doing in practice into the matches. In Australia I did a good job at that and played some top-quality tennis. In some of the tournaments since I haven't played as well. So I need to play my best."
Murray, who has been working full-time with his coach, Ivan Lendl, for the last five weeks, believes that the standards at the top of men's tennis have risen sharply in the last two or three years. He reckons the improvement is purely down to the players' better physical performance.
"You could watch videos of all of the guys playing from two years ago and they haven't changed their technique," he said. "I haven't seen anyone change a specific shot, in the way they hit the shot, but you look at the speed that guys are moving around the court, how quick they are to retrieve balls and moving forward to the net – guys are quicker.
"Everything looks much faster. When you see a video of guys playing from 20 years ago, it just looks literally like slow-motion – even 10 years ago. I watched Rafa playing against Roger in the final in Miami [in 2005] and you look at the speed they're hitting the ball at then and compare it to how it is now, it's just so much quicker."
Odds On: What will happen this year.
Some wag will shout ‘Come on, Tim!’ during Murray’s matches. And the Wimbledon crowd will laugh because it’s really funny. No really, it’s funny and he loves it.
A new players’ food fad will be uncovered. Last year it was sushi, before that bananas, pasta and isotonic drinks. Blood oxygen boosting beetroot juice, anyone?
If a British player does manage to reach the second round, Henman Hill will be renamed Bloggs Bulge or some other nonsense.
Murray will be lauded as a great British player until he loses, at which point he will revert to being Scottish.
The Duchess of Cambridge will be in the Royal Box − she’s a tennis fan.
The Queen will not be in the Royal Box−she finds tennis boring. Something about its lack of equine involvement.
There will be a record crowd on at least one day. It happens every year as the All England Club manage to find yet another corner to squeeze more people into. All that overpriced merchandise in the shop has to be sold, after all.
The roof on Centre Court will be closed, as rain is predicted for later this week (and it cost £100 million, so it would be a shame not to use it).
Andy Murray fever will go bonkers in the first week.
Murray fever will come to an abrupt halt in the second week (we hope we’re wrong).
An umpire will get tongue tied over an ova or-eva player’s multi-syllabled name. The crowd will titter because mispronouncing foreigners’ names is really funny, isn’t it?
Stories complaining that strawberries and cream are hideously expensive this year will appear in tomorrow’s paper.
A player (probably a man) will be fined for swearing or unsportsmanlike behaviour. Void if you have David Nalbandian in your sweepstake.
A player (probably a woman) will wear something outrageous or against the rules. She will be guaranteed press coverage, if not a place in the next round.
During Murray’s opening warm-up, Fred Perry will be mentioned for the first of, oh, about a thousand times.
A tout will finally be arrested.
Metropolitan Police say they are clamping down pre-Olympics, at which point they get more powers. They say they hope “persuasion” will work, but if not...
All British players (with the exception of Andy Murray) will be out of the tournament by end of play on Tuesday.
How Murray loses at Wimbledon
LOST 3RD ROUND TO DAVID NALBANDIAN
6-7 1-6 6-0 6-4 6-1
After bridging a gap of 299 places to beat Radek Stepanek, the world No 13, 18-year-old Murray led Nalbandian by two sets on his Centre Court debut before cramp took over.
LOST 4TH ROUND TO MARCOS BAGHDATIS
6-3 6-4 7-6
A masterful straight-sets victory over Andy Roddick was followed by a limp display against Baghdatis. “I played 10 times worse,” Murray said. “I just didn’t feel good”.
LOST QUARTER-FINALS TO RAFAEL NADAL
6-3 6-2 6-4
Having done his Charles Atlas impression by showing his bulging biceps against Richard Gasquet, Murray had sand kicked in his face by the strong man of tennis.
LOST SEMI-FINALS TO ANDY RODDICK
6-4 4-6 7-6 7-6
One hundred years after the birth of Fred Perry a Murray victory would have been a storybook finish, but nobody had shown Roddick the script.
LOST SEMI-FINALS TO RAFAEL NADAL
6-4 7-6 6-4
Much closer than the scoreline suggested, though Nadal’s bludgeoning forehand often proved decisive. “I felt sorry for him because he’s a very nice person,” Nadal said later.
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