Wimbledon 2013: Andy Murray has the strength to bare teeth and soul at SW19
Scot has gone from zero to hero in eyes of the British public and can now take his place in history by winning Wimbledon
Andy Murray has not always been a crowd favourite at Wimbledon. On his second senior appearance at the All England Club seven years ago, shortly after his infamous joke that he would be supporting "whoever England are playing" at the football World Cup, he recalled passing through the crowds and hearing a woman talking on her mobile phone. "That Scottish wanker's just walked by," she said.
For many years Middle England found it hard to warm to Murray as he screamed at his entourage, scowled at the back of the court and raged at nobody in particular. When he plays his first match tomorrow against Benjamin Becker, however, the crowd are sure to welcome him as a returning hero.
Wimbledon 2012 changed every-thing for Murray. His memorable matches, ending in his stirring if losing performance against Roger Federer in the final, lit the fuse for his explosive victories both in the Olympic final four weeks later – against the same opponent and on the same court – and at the US Open, where he finally became Britain's first male Grand Slam singles champion for 76 years.
In terms of his public image, the turning point was his tearful post-match interview on court after his defeat by Federer. At last the public saw a different Murray, a man who had given everything and then bared his soul in his moment of greatest disappointment.
"You would rather be able to control your emotions, which is something we spend a lot of our career trying to do," Murray said last week. "That day I was just unable to do it. I knew before I went up to speak. I knew I wasn't going to be able to do it. I said to Roger, 'I'm sorry, but I'm not in a good place here.' He understands. He's been in that position more times than me.
"It was tough, because a lot of times you are upset after matches, but you don't have to do a speech in front of millions of people. Sometimes people have a bad day at work and you're in a bad mood when you get home, but the people at work don't necessarily know that. Everything boiled over on the court. I would rather that had happened in the locker room afterwards, but it didn't."
It was difficult, too, for those around him. "They know how upset you are, but it's tough not to sort of try and baby you. You're quite sensitive and you get on the defensive straight away if someone says something to you: 'You're great' or 'Don't worry about it'. It's tough to explain, but they were extremely supportive."
It was a quiet night that evening back at the Murray household in Oxshott, Surrey. "I don't even know exactly when the match finished but we ordered some pizzas very late to the house and I just watched some TV," the Scot recalled.
"I was just really upset for the rest of that evening and probably two or three days afterwards. But I'd say once I actually got back on the court, that was when I started to feel better.
"It was the first time I'd responded well to a defeat, so it was maybe good that I'd got all those emotions out and didn't keep them bubbled. I got them out of my system and got back to work. After Wimbledon last year people probably saw a slightly different side to me. "On the court, when I'm playing the matches, I'm extremely focused and basically just trying to do my best. I'm not laughing and joking around when I'm on the court. But I think after Wimbledon, probably everyone saw how hard I was trying and how much it meant to me. I was giving everything I had and then wasn't able to get over that final hurdle."
Murray says that finally clearing that barrier by winning a Grand Slam title lifted a huge burden from his shoulders. That was evident in his run to this year's Australian Open final. "Towards the end of the event, when I got closer to the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, I just felt a bit more confident and [felt] a few less doubts than maybe I had say a year ago," he said. "But there are still going to be a lot of nerves the night before my first match at Wimbledon and the day I play my first match. That's not going to change."
Murray's decision to miss the recent French Open to nurse his lower-back injury looks to have been a wise one. It gave him the chance to prepare more thoroughly for the grass-court season, and he reported no problems with his back as he won the Aegon Championships title in some style at Queen's last week.
"Given the situation I had a few weeks ago with the injury, I've prepared as best I could," he said.
"I've given myself the best opportunity to do well. I spend a lot of time at Wimbledon now. I know a lot of the people there. I feel comfortable in those surroundings now. It feels like a home court to me and I'm looking forward to getting started."
Did Murray think that having won Olympic gold and then his first Grand Slam title would have any bearing on his performances over the next fortnight? "Maybe. I don't know how much effect it will have in this event, but I've played well on grass my whole career. I like the surface. I like Wimbledon. If I play my best tennis, I give myself a good opportunity to do well there."
Behind a successful man
A BBC documentary to be broadcast tonight will show a very different Andy Murray to the man the public sees on court. Kim Sears, his girlfriend reveals how the US Open champion, who normally never touches alcohol, drank so much champagne on the flight back from New York last year that he brushed his teeth with face cream by mistake. His father, Willie, talks about his son's competitive streak. Recalling his youngest son's reaction when his first Lottery ticket was not a winner, he said: "Andy went crazy, saying, 'You're rubbish at picking out my numbers, Dad. You're not doing this again'."
The Man Behind the Racquet, BBC One, 10.25pm
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