There was an image conjured up of Andy Murray and his brother Jamie larking around their hotel with pillows swinging just like in those famous images of The Beatles yesterday as the Wimbledon and Olympic champion brought colour to an otherwise dull and dutiful press conference ahead of Great Britain’s Davis Cup semi-final against Argentina in Glasgow’s Emirates Stadium this weekend.
The singles opener for Scotland’s most celebrated sportsperson potentially being a Rio rematch of the epic that landed him gold against a revitalised Juan Martin del Potro might have exercised minds in the arena. But so too did another encounter – last weekend’s US Open final in which Stan Wawrinka prevailed against world No 1 Novak Djokovic, even in the face of two potentially focus-upsetting medical time-outs called by the Serbian. It had echoes of the gamesmanship Djokovic has deployed against Murray in the past, but the British No 1 took the sting out of an enquiry suggesting as much.
“I saw about four games [of the final]. We were...I don’t know... we were messing around in our hotel, we didn’t have it on the TV,” he said. “I only saw one of them [Djokovic’s time-outs] and the one I saw, the toes were bleeding. There was no commentary on it, I was watching it on a betting website, it wasn’t on the TV in the room. I just saw his toes were bleeding a lot. In those situations, you have to have a doctor or a physio to come on and sort it out. I’ve had that with hands and stuff, people get grazes and you have to get people on to get that checked out because there is obviously ball kids handling the ball and stuff. I didn’t really see the rest of the match.”
It was put to Murray that as a member of the players’ council he could raise a matter that has attracted much comment in the aftermath of Djokovic’s latest on-court dramas. “Me and Novak are both on the player council, and so is my brother,” added Murray. “We will chat around any different topic when we go in there. If any of the other players feel strongly about it – to change it or address it – we’ll do that. We’ll discuss it as much as possible. The less stoppages in play the better but tennis, because it’s an individual sport, you can’t make substitutions, so it’s a difficult one to get perfect.”
Perfection across his glorious summer was denied to Murray when he was beaten by Kei Nishikori in five sets at the quarter-final stage of the US Open. He appeared to be exhibiting signs of fatigue after a gruelling period wherein he had reached the finals of eight previous tournaments, and only fell two games short of being just the fourth man to reach all four slam finals in the same year. The 29-year-old doesn’t pretend to be fresh as a daisy at this stage of the season, but hopes the special atmosphere generated at Davis Cup matches can give him a pep. After last year’s historic Davis Cup success that ended the country’s 79-year wait for a victory – and with his own slam-securing form – Murray’s goals haven’t seemed so fixated on the tournament. Now, though, he can become one-eyed about it again.
“I took a few days off after New York and came here Sunday. I get a little break after I finish here so one more big push this weekend,” he said. “You can have more than one goal at the start of any year. The Davis Cup, for all of us, wasn’t a priority at the start of the year in terms of winning the event. But as the year went on and we got closer and closer, you want to make the most of the opportunity. I will try and do it again this year, if possible, but I want to win all the events I enter.
“Some goals are bigger than others, some things, if you achieve them, feel better than others. Some losses that you have hurt more than others. That’s just how it is. You can’t always decide that yourself; you don’t always know how you’ll feel inside until it happens. These next few months I want to try and finish the year as strong as possible. It’s been the best year of my career so far.”
The same could be said for all the members of captain Leon Smith’s Davis Cup team: Jamie Murray fresh from winning the US doubles, with Dan Evans having a match point against eventual winner Wawrinka, and Kyle Edmund making it to the fourth round before coming up against Djokovic. Jamie Murray is nursing a stiff neck he expects to have eased before partnering his brother in the doubles on Saturday, but before that Smith must cope with a headache he must be developing as he ponders whether it is Evans or Edmund that plays tomorrow’s other singles tie. A decision settled on last night.
“Over the last five or six years we’ve won some rubbers where we’ve upset the rankings,” Smith said. “You can’t keep relying on that every time. We are very fortunate that the guys have stepped up and had some really good wins and great performances. There is no doubt it is better to be in a situation we are now where we have a strong team. Everyone is pushing for places, everyone is playing well but still at the end of the day what they are doing on a week-to-week basis on the tour with their ranking is the priority. Obviously when it comes to Davis Cup it strengthens us considerably.
“There is a lot of talk about the difficult decision with who plays but the good thing is that it’s the whole weekend, you can have rotations, change about the team, and that is what the good teams have been able to do and that is the situation we are in now.”
The situation Argentina are in is that their big hitter Del Potro could be asked to play all three days. The Olympic silver medallist, beaten by Wawrinka in the US Open, is looking like the elite player he was before a series of wrist injuries. “I think I’ve found my way in the game again,” he said. “I’m feeling good. To be in another semi-final for our country, it’s amazing for us. The captain will decide who is going to play against Andy on the first day. We’re all ready I’ve been really good in the last month, between the Olympics and the US Open, my level of play has been going up. But nothing is going to be similar to the Olympics. I’ve had a great week in Rio, a great week in New York – and now I’d hope for another great week here.”