MURRAY: 'I JUST WANTED TO WIN ONE GRAND SLAM!' ›
Murray: ‘I just wanted to win one Grand Slam!’ | Sport magazine
Andy Murray is reflecting on the first phase of his career as a professional tennis player – the phase that came to an end at 2.05am on September 10 2012, when an overhit Novak Djokovic return handed the Scot the maiden Grand Slam title he’d spent more than a decade working towards. Sinking to his haunches, Murray’s hands covered his mouth as he struggled to absorb the enormity of what he had achieved (picture 1).
That momentous New York night feels like it was longer than nine months ago when Sport sits down with Murray beside the centre court at Queen’s Club – an arena that has brought him the only grass-court titles of his career so far (his Olympic gold aside). The US Open champion has just emerged from the players’ lounge, where he’s been glued to the final set of Rafael Nadal’s French Open semi-final win over Djokovic. The tournament is the first Slam Murray has missed in six years (he sat out Wimbledon in 2007 with a wrist injury), but the gruelling nature of the four-hour, 37-minute battle he’s just witnessed has proved his difficult decision to sit out the tournament was the right one.
“That sort of match is the reason why I wasn’t playing, because I wouldn’t have been able to compete at the level I’d want to compete at,” he explains. “My back just wasn’t good enough.”
The injury was so bad that it forced Murray to retire from his second-round match at the Rome Masters in May, and he admits to fearing the worst as he departed the Italian capital.
“My back had been bad the week before, in Madrid, but I just hoped that with a few days’ rest before Rome it would be okay,” he says. “After I pulled out, I was going to see back specialists, having scans and just getting a lot of different opinions from a lot of people. In your head, you do prepare yourself for really bad news.”
Murray suffered from back spasms at a similar stage of last season, leading some to conclude the problem is aggravated by the switch in surfaces at the beginning of the clay-court campaign – thus something the 26-year-old might therefore have to manage for the remainder of his career.
“All players have things they need to manage,” he continues. “Roger’s had back issues for a while and Rafa’s had problems with his knees. The game is so physical now that it’s almost impossible not to have niggling injuries, but if you have the right structure to your training and rehab then you can get by. It’s when you try to not think about it, and don’t do the right treatments or see the physios, that you’re going to have problems and be forced to miss more events.”
Many injured sportspeople close their eyes and ears to events they’re being forced to miss – it’s an ‘if I’m not there, then I’ll pretend no one else is’ mentality designed to ease their disappointment.
Not Murray. He used his time off to watch what unfolded in Paris, offering opinions and predictions via his Twitter account, much like your average tennis fan. But is he able to watch the game in the same way as any other fan, or does his tennis brain kick into gear even when he’s watching it from his sofa with a sausage sandwich and mug of tea on the go?
“Sometimes I just want to enjoy the match and not focus too much on tactics or anything,” he answers. “But there are also times when I’ll sit down and take notes. Watching the end of the match with Rafa and Novak earlier, I was thinking that when you’re watching as a player you can see: ‘Oh, he should be doing this or that, and this is what is working and this is what isn’t.’ But when you’re the one on the court, it’s very difficult under that pressure – especially after playing for four hours – to concentrate and know the exact tactics you should be using.
“You can learn a lot from watching. When I was about 17, I injured my knee and missed four or five months of playing. But I used to take notes on all the matches and players I watched – so when I did manage to get on the tour and play against them, it wasn’t like I’d never seen them before. I knew a bit about what they did and their strengths and weaknesses. These days, I take notes more on specific players or matches. Sometimes, if the top guys are playing and someone’s giving them trouble, it’s useful to look at what they’re doing to make it difficult for them.”
BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER
It wasn’t too long after that injury layoff that Murray made his senior debut at Wimbledon (picture 2), where he will return 10 days from now for his eighth attempt at ending Britain’s long wait for a homegrown singles champion (still Fred Perry, still 1936). On that Tuesday afternoon in June 2005, however, nothing could have been further from an 18-year-old Murray’s thoughts.
“I was just so excited to play and there was no pressure – it was about pure enjoyment and excitement. I still have the excitement, but it is hard when you’re on the court to really enjoy it as much as I did when I was 18 and playing there for the first time. Back then, if you lose in the first round… well, no one’s expecting anything of you and you’re not expecting anything of yourself. Obviously now it’s a bit different.”
The expectation level isn’t the only thing that has changed about Murray’s appearances at Wimbledon. The rake-thin teenager whose T-shirt billowed around his delicate frame on his SW19 debut is gone, replaced by an athlete with the physique and fitness levels to match – if not better – any of his colleagues in the men’s game.
“When I was training in Spain [Murray left home at 15 to train at the Sánchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona], I never went to the gym,” he remembers. “I spent all my time on the court. I had quite strong legs, but my upper body was really weak – so I got tired in the long matches. It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I started taking the work in the gym seriously, and it made a big difference.
“I probably enjoy the gym more than practice now, because practice can be quite repetitive, whereas with the gym there are so many things you can do. You can do different types of cardio or you can swim, lift weights, do core work, yoga, pilates. There are so many aspects to training nowadays and that’s why I enjoy it – because it’s not the same all the time.”
Repetition on the practice court is one thing, but Murray would probably accept a repeat of his performances at Wimbledon last summer: two finals, one gold medal and an outpouring of emotion that softened even his harshest critics. The 2012 grass- court season was a tumultuous time for him, with what he calls his “toughest ever defeat” to Federer in the Wimbledon final (picture 3), followed four weeks later by Olympic gold on the same court. It was, as he referred to it then, “the biggest win of my life”.
“It was the best I’d played in a final up to that point,” he says of the four-set loss that left him unable to stop the tears from flowing on centre court. “And it was the first time that, having lost in a Slam final, I’ve responded really well. I took five or six days off and then, when I started practising again before the Olympics, I felt really good. But it was a really tough one for me for a few days, that’s for sure.”
GETTING OVER IT
Asked to describe the processes he goes through during those few painful days following such a defeat, Murray swallows hard and exhales deeply, as if to suppress the rising emotions still associated with that particular loss: “It’s difficult – for the people around me as well. They all saw that it hurt me a lot losing that match. And as much as you want to have a life away from tennis, they also saw how much time and effort I’d put in to try and win one of those events. It’s hard for them to know the best thing to do. They might think that maybe babying me or telling me I’m great will help, but also they just want to be normal and talk about other stuff away from the court.
“I wasn’t really ready to do that until I got back on the practice court – that’s when I started to get over it. The first few days were not much fun for me, and probably not for everyone around me, too. But the thing that was nice was that everyone was very supportive after Wimbledon. When I’d lost big matches before, there had sometimes been a negative feeling. But I didn’t really get that after the Wimbledon match, and it helped me to get over it. As did the fact the Olympics was only a few weeks away. That was something I was never going to experience again in my life, so it was a really big motivation.”
Four years before London 2012, Murray had made what he now sees as a serious error in making his Olympic debut in Beijing. “It was one of the best experiences I’d had in my tennis career,” he says.
“Just being there, being around the other athletes, going to the Opening Ceremony and all that stuff. But I lost in the first round. I was so dehydrated – I’d lost about four kilos between leaving the States to get to Beijing and the end of my first match. I was annoyed at myself, because I’d been so excited to be part of the Olympics that I took my eye off what I was there to do: compete for my country. I wanted to change that this time around. I didn’t get to do any of the ceremonies and what-not in London, but I did what I was there to do – which was to try to win medals.
“The final was the best atmosphere I had ever played in (picture 4). But the best thing about the Olympics was the fact that, every time you turned the TV on, in every sport, on every day, everyone was just so positive. People were winning, the press was positive, the country was positive, the public were loving it and I think it made a huge difference to how the athletes performed. People were putting in the best performances of their career at the Games.”
Murray carried that positivity with him to New York, where his previously unsuccessful efforts to add his name to a list of Grand Slam winners that had featured only four men since Nadal’s first French Open win in 2005 would finally have a happy ending.
“Tennis is tough right now,” he says. “Look at the guys who were ahead of me at the time I won in New York – one of them had won 17 Grand Slams, one of them had won 11, and the other one was on five or six. They had more than 30 between them, and every time I got to a final I was playing against one of them.
“When Roger won his first Wimbledon, he was playing against Mark Philippoussis, who had never won a Slam. When Rafa played in his first French final, he played against Mariano Puerta, who had never played in a Grand Slam final. And when Novak won the Australian Open for the first time, he played against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who’d never won a Slam. I was getting into the position to play for these titles and coming up against Roger, who is the best player ever, and Novak, who is one of the best hard-court players of all time. It was tough.
“I was trying my hardest, but I just had to keep saying: ‘If I’m not good enough, then I’m sorry but it’s not because I’m not trying my best.’ Just because we’re from the UK, it doesn’t mean we have a right to be better than anybody else at sport.
“Now I’ve done it and put my name among them, I can move on. I feel like it’s the second part of my career now. I’ve probably only got another five or six years left of playing at the highest level, so I want to try and give myself the best chance at all the Grand Slams I play. Ivan [Lendl, Murray’s coach] has helped a lot with keeping me focused and not letting my mind drift and just think that [winning the US Open] is what I was here to do. It’s important to reset your goals. Before, I just wanted to win a Grand Slam. I didn’t care which one it was, I just wanted to win one. Now it’s a bit easier to start prioritising individual tournaments, and I think that will help.”
Phase two of Murray’s career comes at an interesting time. While Federer’s dominant days are over and Nadal is having to accept that less is more when it comes to balancing his fragile knees with his playing schedule, Murray and Djokovic are reaching what could be termed the middle age of their careers.
“There are certain things you look back at and think I would have done things differently, but that’s the beauty of growing up,” he reflects. “You make mistakes, you learn from them and you get better from making those mistakes.”
He smiles as he continues: “Yeah, I’d like to be 21 again, but I’m not. My body hurts more than it did when I was 21 as well, but I need to enjoy it while I’m able to… and hopefully win another Slam.”
As Murray prepares to return to the court that brought moments of acute pain and sheer joy last season, he adds a final thought on the possibility of Slam number two: “There are no guarantees. I know how difficult it is to win them.”