WIMBLEDON is fast approaching and everyone is getting over-excited. The world’s finest players are stumbling around the grass courts of Europe trying to hone their strokes, while the BBC is out in force to film them at Queen’s Club for the Aegon Championships.
In the midst of this mayhem sits Andy Murray, possibly the calmest, cheeriest character on the circuit at the moment.
“He does hit the ball so hard and he’s flashy. He doesn’t give you so much rhythm”Andy Murray
Cheery? Murray? Actually, yes. He may be the focus of British attention, unable to blow his nose without the click of a hundred camera shutters, but Murray is at home and he is happy.
His opening round at Queen’s went well – Taiwan’s Yen-Hsun Lu dispatched in straight sets – but today he faces an altogether sterner foe in Fernando Verdasco of Spain.
The left-hander is unpredictable to say the least and when he is good, he is very, very good. But quite when that will be, not even he knows. He has explosive power, a thumping forehand and a welting serve – and he gave Murray a scare in the Wimbledon quarter-finals two years ago. The Scot won, as he has in ten of their 11 previous meetings, but it was a little too close for comfort.
“I had a great match with him at Wimbledon a couple of years ago,” Murray said.
“I came back from two sets to love and won in five. When he is on his game he’s an extremely tough guy to beat.
“You can sometimes go a couple of games where you don’t get to see the ball because he’s serving big and hitting his forehand huge. Then there can be periods in the match where he makes a few mistakes and it’s up to you to capitalise on them and also to try to play a very sort of solid, stable match because he does tend to have ups and downs throughout.
“If you can stay consistent and solid throughout, you’ll get some opportunities. But it’s not an easy thing to do against him.
“He does hit the ball so hard and he’s flashy. He doesn’t give you so much rhythm.
“It will be tough. He plays extremely well on the grass. I’m going to have be ready for that one, play a solid match and I look forward to it.”
Then again, Murray has been looking forward to this part of the year for months now. After the long haul of the clay court season, the time of year when every rally stretches the muscles to screaming point, Murray is fitter than he has been in years.
His stamina is back to championship-winning level and his game is just where he wants it to be. According to his mother, Judy, his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, has introduced a new X-factor to his game, one that Judy has not seen since her son was a young hopeful with big ambitions.
“He’s enjoyed working with Amelie,” Judy told the Tennis Podcast. “I think the way that she played the game herself, very intuitive, lots of skill and variety, is actually very similar to the way Andy developed his game as a young player. I think she has brought back a lot of the creativity into his game that he, perhaps, had not used as much when he worked with Ivan [Lendl] who was more about trying to get him to be more aggressive more often and to help set and reset his focus. Obviously, he did a great job and Amélie’s adding something different and something extra and it’s been good to watch.”
Where so many British players in the past wilted under the strain of playing in front of a home crowd desperate for success, Murray has always embraced it. Winning Wimbledon in 2013 helped relieve some of the external expectations but there is still the personal ambition. Murray wants to win more Grand Slam titles. Now that he is physically back to his best, he is playing as well as ever and he is a happily married man, he is probably better prepared now than ever to reach his goals. Judy certainly thinks so.
“I think he’s in a good place physically and mentally,” she added. “For the last three or four years, he’s struggled with some problems with his back and then he took the big decision to have the surgery on his back. It took him a while – as we all knew it would – to really get his body back into the shape he needed it to be in for what is an incredibly strong men’s game at the moment – so many top players, huge strength in depth. I would say in the last six months or so, his body has been back to where he wanted it to be and it can do the things he wants it to do. And he’s really chilled, he got married a couple of months ago, he’s very relaxed and I think that also has a lot to do with his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, and the team around him. He’s in a good place at the moment.”
Quite how good a place he is in, Verdasco, like the rest of us, will find out later today.