You don’t mess with Andy Murray, not if you want to live to tell the tale. Fiercely loyal to his friends and family, a few have tried to take pot-shots at the Scot and his nearest and dearest, but they have emerged verbally battered and bruised as a result.
But once the world No 6 had eased his way into the second round of the Australian Open yesterday with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 win over Yuki Bhambri, the world No 317 from India, Murray was in magnanimous mood.
He now faces Marinko “Mad Dog” Matosevic, the Bosnian-born Australian who last summer poured scorn on Murray’s choice of coach. As Murray proudly presented Amelie Mauresmo to the world at Queen’s Club, Matosevic sneered.
“For me, I couldn’t do it since I don’t think that highly of the women’s game,” he said then. “It’s all equal rights these days. Got to be politically correct. So, yeah, someone’s got to give it a go. Won’t be me.”
Murray, though, has a soft spot for Matosevic. He knows that the big man is often misunderstood and he is always willing to cut him a little slack. The two are friends – Murray finds the world No 81 good company in the locker room – and anyone who works as hard as Matosevic deserves respect in Murray’s book.
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“He came and spoke to me immediately about it when it was in the papers and apologised,” Murray said. “He spoke to my mum about it and apologised, and apologised to Amelie. He can say something and he doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad with it, if that’s his opinion.
“If he doesn’t want to work with a female coach then that’s absolutely fine, and that’s the case with many players. But I’m not offended by it and I get on absolutely fine with him. He’s just a bit different. When someone’s different, people want to have a go at them but he’s a good person.
“He’s one of those guys who in some ways gets a bit of a hard time. He’s a bit different, he’s a bit out there, but he works exceptionally hard, he doesn’t mess around when he’s practising and he respects all of the players and he’s a good guy. I get on well with him.
“As a player he’s just a bit erratic but when he plays well he’s a tough guy to play against because he’s strong, he’s a good ball striker, he’s a very good athlete, he is just a bit up and down from time to time.”
And after such a glowing character reference, Murray fully intends to marmalise Matosevic when they meet tomorrow. The atmosphere ought to be electric – an Australian playing on home soil usually gets the crowd going – but safe in the knowledge that the local hero has not taken a set from Murray in three previous meetings, Scotland’s finest will not be unduly worried.
His performance against Bhambri was not spectacular but it did not have to be. The Indian is far better than his ranking would suggest – he struggled with a heel injury last year – but he was still not good enough to threaten the world No 6.
Murray did drop his serve twice and he was kept on his toes by Bhambri’s willingness to take the ball early and attack from the baseline and, if all else failed, to come forward and show a neat touch at the net.
The only real moments of concern came in the third set when Murray started talking to himself and giving himself a dressing down for his perceived failings.
At one point he yelled “Shocking movement!” when he failed to connect cleanly with the ball. At other times, it was just the usual rumbling and grumbling. But Murray has learned not give himself too much grief on such occasions.
“When things don’t go people’s way, it’s normal,” he said. “If I went to play five-a-side football with my dad’s friends and someone misplaces a pass – you know they’re just playing for fun but everyone’s reaction when they do something wrong is to want to say something. It’s a completely natural thing to do, it’s how the brain works, how people work.
“But it’s about making sure you’re aren’t letting those things affect you. And reminding yourself about all the positive things you’re doing, and to try to be as lenient as you can with yourself. It’s a skill that obviously you need to learn. It’s not something that necessarily comes naturally to everyone.”
Now that he has got a toehold in the tournament, Murray can relax and get into his stride. Matosevic may be unorthodox and a bit fiery on court but as a two-time grand slam champion, the world No 6 should have more than enough firepower and experience to put him in his place.
“Hopefully I’ll play well,” Murray said. “I need to continue serving well. That helps against whoever you’re playing against. When you play against a big guy who likes to go for his shots, if you can keep good weight and depth behind your shots, that can frustrate them.
“I’ll try and use some variety to throw his timing off a little bit.
“Just continue doing what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I’ve been playing very well in the practices and striking the ball cleanly in the matches. If I keep that up, I’ll keep getting better each round.”
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