This was really a good article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks, Craig.
Ask Andy Murray what he considers the best thing about being Andy Murray and initially he gives an off-the-cuff response. Then, two hours later, he sends a message saying that the best thing about being Andy Murray is “being normal”.
Now there are those who may regard this as a remarkable statement, because he is quite the opposite. For a start, Murray is a British tennis player of world-class standards, above and beyond anyone the country has produced for seven decades, which makes him distinctly abnormal.
We assume, therefore, he is simply telling everyone that he is really nothing special but a young man with dreams who is doing everything he can to fulfil them — and in that, he finds normality.
The Australian Open, starting in Melbourne a week today, is his 25th grand-slam event and he is settling into the consequences of a decision that is regarded as anything but “normal” — employing as his coach someone who has never coached before and was regarded with some contempt in his playing career .
Although Ivan Lendl appeared on the radar as a prospective coach last March — the story in The Times declaring his interest was laughed at — the confirmation on New Year’s Eve that he would be joining Team Murray took some believing. In many ways, they are a perfect fit, two people in an existence that is terribly solitary who sought the allegiance, the difference, that could deliver widespread acceptance.
Lendl’s saviour was Tony Roche, the Australian coach; could Lendl be Murray’s? No one can know for sure, but unless you dip your toes into the waters, how could you know? In the aftermath of his victory in the Brisbane International — defeating Alexandr Dolgopolov, of Ukraine, 6-1, 6-3 in the final — Murray started to explain his reasoning behind the move, and it made for fascinating listening.
“You learn a lot of things about yourself each year on tour,” he said. “Last year I had a lot of big downs and tough losses. It [his career] could have gone the other way after Indian Wells and Miami [where he lost to American qualifiers in the first round of both tournaments] but I kept coming back well from big disappointments.
“I know there will be more losses to take, but it’s what you do after them that counts. I’ve spoken to Ivan a little bit about this process and it is what we will work on. I could lose first round in the Open, but I cannot panic, I have to believe in what I am doing, how I am working, the guys around me.
“It might take three months, it might take 15, but I know I’m going in the right direction. There are things this week I did very well that will stand me in good stead for the Australian Open: I conserved energy; mentally, I was superb, especially in the last three matches. I’ll keep working on that.
“Growing up, you learn the things that aren’t acceptable on the court because so much of it doesn’t come naturally to me. Yes, I’m an emotional person but I’m not an angry person, I never have fights, never have arguments with anyone because it’s not in my nature. What you see on court isn’t what I’m like away from it.
“A lot of things can contribute — pressure can do funny things, nerves as well, but there are ways of getting over that, of dealing with it and this week was a good start. I want to do a good job of it at the Australian Open and beyond.”
Murray was optimistic about his working relationship with Lendl. “It’s only been four days, but just the way he operates is good for me,” he said. “We finished the match today, he was straight to the airport, it’s ‘see you on Tuesday’.
“He understands the way it needs to work. He won’t be on to me every single minute of the day but the time we spend together will be honest, open, good fun. He’s not worried about today’s match, or the day before, or the Open, he is worried about putting in the right work, giving everything I can.
“People say I haven’t done this and I haven’t done that, but as long as I give 100 per cent and put in the hard work, there’s nothing more that I can do.
“Someone like Lendl is not going to let me get away with 90 per cent. I’ll give everything I can and he will make sure I’m prepared as well as possible and have the right mindset for the big events.
“I’m really looking forward to it and I hope he is as well.”
Murray’s on-court antics have not been good enough, and he knows it, which is half the battle. If he did not accept what he has done in the past, screaming at his corner, yanking at his shorts and his wristbands, thumping his thighs, fulminating against the world, rather than simply playing a match, it would be dangerous.
“In many respects it [the criticism he has received] has been fair,” he said. “It’s something I’ll get better at. The good thing is that it is that [his behaviour] — and not something that’s glaringly obvious that’s wrong in my game — that needs to improve.
“But at no stage last year did I see Novak [Djokovic] go a match without saying anything. I saw him go nuts on the court and win matches. Sometimes it was almost like he wasn’t trying for a set and then he would come back.
“You can break a racket, but if you serve an ace the next point, that is what matters. In the first two rounds this week, I was angry with myself a few times, but I kept coming up with first serves. There were two break points against [Gilles] Müller and I hit two first serves back to back. So long as you have a clear head when the next point starts, that’s what matters.”
That clear-headed theory will be tested as never before in the next three weeks. From tomorrow, at Melbourne Park, the coaching regime with Lendl and all that it entails will start for real. There is a week to go before a grand-slam event and not a moment to waste. It is a time when Murray will find out if “being normal” cuts the mustard.