A crowd of youngsters, journalists and PR workers are squeezed into the tiny foyer of a relatively unassuming, modest building in East London. In the main hall Andy Murray is playing road tennis with former WBA world heavyweight champion boxer David Haye.
It’s an easy game to understand. Put simply, it’s a smaller version of tennis played with a low net, a small, squidgy ball, and ping pong style rackets.
After waiting in the walkway for a few minutes, MW is led into the hall and takes a seat with members of the press behind the clan of excited youngsters. A group of cameramen film proceedings and it’s a relaxed scene. The only conflict going on is between Haye and his racket. He isn’t very good at this game and, tellingly enough, blames the equipment. Ah yes, that old classic.
At this point, a PR colleague walks across the court and asks the gang in front of MW if today is anyone’s birthday. A short silence follows, and a young, shaggy haired boy of around 15 tentatively raises his hand. He sheepishly walks onto the court and Murray steps over the low net, shakes the boy’s hand and exchanges pleasantries. Read more (760 words)
The two hit for a few minutes amid the hubbub of cameras and microphones, before the kid hits another striking winner. Murray turns, smiles, and asks: “Do you play tennis?”
Stood outside the tiny press room, MW chats with journalists and bloggers until they are guided in. They find Murray in an amicable mood, already engaged in conversation with a young yet confident journalist. The Scot looks up as the door opens, offers another handshake and says: “Hi, how are you?”
“We’re playing Fantasy Football again this season,” tells the world number three. “But we’re playing a different system now. Last season, it got to the point where everyone had the same team. So now we have a system where, for example, only one person in the league can have Wayne Rooney. There are a few people who have been trying to do a few dodgy deals, though.” Murray looks accusingly at his occasional doubles partner Colin Fleming, who leans nonchalantly against the wall of the small, sparsely furnished room, crossing his arms.
A three-time grand slam finalist, Murray speaks confidently and openly with an audience of writers whom he has never met before. Indeed, he even confides in the press about his mysterious lack of tweeting. Many fans have wondered why they no longer see him chatting online with the likes of Fleming and his doubles partner Ross Hutchins.
“I was probably one of the first sportspeople to tweet a lot. I didn’t have a reason for stopping,” Murray remembers. “After the US Open [where Murray reached the semi-finals] I just wanted to take some time off from it, as well as media work. I enjoyed it for the most part but haven’t missed it so I just stopped completely.”
His joking with friends and tales of Fantasy Football banter underline his good-humoured nature yet unveil a competitive streak that has propelled him to stardom in one of the toughest sports on the planet.
On the back of three tournament wins and 17 matches unbeaten – that run upended by Tomas Berdych two weeks ago in Paris – Murray’s confidence is audibly buzzing around the room. “I think guys feel pressured by me,” he says – and what a time for such a dramatic spike in form.
Murray is this week playing in the ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena, the season-ending tournament comprising of the top eight players in the world. Roger Federer is buoyant after his victory over Jo-Wilfried in the Paris Masters Final, while Murray’s other main rivals – Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – have taken time out to nurse injuries.
Ever the shrewd analyst, Murray comments that: “If you haven’t played many matches, then go into somewhere as intense as the O2, you’re going to feel pretty rough afterwards.” He continues: “I’ve played a lot, so that always helps. Roger [Federer] will feel fresh but someone like Rafa [Nadal], who hasn’t played much, sure, he’ll feel fresh now, but after his first long match he’ll feel it.
“It’s a very challenging tournament because you have to be playing great and on your game from the first match. In my first match I’ll play the number five or number six in the world which doesn’t happen anywhere else. Anytime you have to beat potentially two of the best players ever in one week it’s hard. It’s one of the best tournaments to win, though.”
Murray appears excited before the tournament and, refreshingly enough, answers everything candidly. He is at ease with most topics raised and doesn’t shy away from the unavoidable dilemma of home advantage.
He describes the O2 as “intense” but passionately rejects claims that the weight is on his shoulders during the World Tour Finals. Murray argues: “There’s a bit of a misconception. Everyone seems to think that when I play at Wimbledon, the O2, there’s more pressure on me. In every other sport – football, rugby – playing at home is seen as an advantage. Anytime you play at home, it’s a positive. I’ve had great results at Wimbledon and Queens, and have played well at the 02. It definitely helps.”
Fantasy Football debate aside, Murray is primed for one of the biggest tournaments of the year and his words exude confidence. He’ll hope his chances of winning at the O2 are anything but fantasy.
- Remember to check MW again very soon for another exclusive with Murray, where he discusses one of the most hotly debated topics this year.