It seems like only yesterday that Andy Murray lifted Wimbledon’s famous silver gilt trophy on Centre Court and brought to an end 77 years of frustration and broken dreams.
That blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon will live long in the memory but, in terms of professional sport, it was a lifetime ago. Three years in any sport, particularly an individual one, is a long time indeed. Back then, in 2013, Murray was the lord of all he surveyed: he had won two grand slam titles in the space of ten months, he was the Olympic champion and he had been in the Australian Open final. What could possibly go wrong?
Yet, much has happened in the intervening years. There was the back surgery at the end of 2013, the recovery from which took most of the following season. There was the split from Ivan Lendl. There was the hiring of and then parting of the ways with Amelie Mauresmo. There was marriage and fatherhood. And there was the rise and rise of Novak Djokovic, a major factor in Murray’s inability to get his hands on another grand slam title. A positive tidal wave had passed under the bridge since that Sunday afternoon.
Murray, though, remains as driven and as optimistic as ever. The re-hiring of Lendl has been a huge fillip to his confidence as he approaches his 11th Wimbledon campaign (he plays his first match tomorrow against Liam Broady) and it has done much to erase the disappointment of losing the French Open final – to Djokovic, who else? – just three weeks ago. Winning the Queen’s Club title a week ago helped a bit, too.
“I said after I won the US Open I knew how difficult they were to win so I am not surprised [that I haven’t won one since 2013],” Murray said. “The back surgery was a big, big blow for the following year. Since then, it has not affected me the last couple of years.
“I have been close a few times and not got it. But I keep giving myself chances, I keep coming back to try and do it. Queen’s, although it doesn’t seem like much, but coming off the back of a tough loss at the French Open to come back and win shows to me that I still want it, the character is still there to win the major events.
“I will stop when I don’t think that I can [win] or if I am not working hard or not motivated by those tournaments. And I am. I am pumped for Wimbledon, I have got a good chance if I prepare well.”
The preparations have been going well under Lendl’s steely gaze and coming off the back of the best clay court season of his career and the most consistent spell of success (four successive finals reached, two trophies won), Murray has good cause to feel confident. He knows he has what it takes to win Wimbledon (he has done it before) and he knows he has what it takes to beat Djokovic in a grand slam final (he has done it twice before) and, he believes that he is a much better player than he was in 2013.
“I think I’ve improved things since then,” he said. “I think the game always improves and gets a little bit better. And if you aren’t improving yourself you get left behind a little bit.
“I do think I’m serving better than I was then. I think my second serve has improved since then. The speed of it certainly has for sure. I do think I am a little bit better up at the net than I was then. But the basics and fundamentals of my game are still the same as they were. But as you get older I do think you learn more things and understand things a little bit better and make often better decisions as you get older too.
“I am happy where I am at physically right now but it is always difficult to compare now with three years ago. But some of the sessions I am doing now that I used to do, my numbers are better in a lot of them. I am in a good place physically.”
He is also in a good place emotionally. The stresses and strains of being on the other side of the world in Australia during the final weeks of his wife’s pregnancy were plain to see but the contented, happy man who now talks about life with his five-month-old daughter Sophia makes all that pale into insignificance. Murray is a proud dad – and by all accounts, he is not bad at this fatherhood lark, either.
“I haven’t really had too many bad moments,” he said. “I haven’t bumped her head on anything yet or dropped her or had her roll off the bed or anything. I think that’s the thing. I was talking to Colin Fleming about that and he was saying that when he was out with his daughter she always ends up bumping her head or getting a bump or a bruise or something on her head. It never happens with her mother.
“But Sophia’s so small, she’s quite easy to manage just now. But I’m sure that when she gets a little bit bigger and starts moving around a bit more then I’ll make a few mistakes.”
Sophia’s arrival has changed life in the Murray household: he now goes to bed earlier and gets up earlier in order to spend more time with No.1 daughter. But the responsibilities of parenthood also put the rest of his life into perspective. And it has given him a new spring in his step.
“Playing still feels the same for me. It’s just that the days – I don’t know – every day doesn’t feel the same because especially on days when I get to see her because she is changing all the time, learning new things all the time, and every day is a bit more exciting. Maybe before, when you’re kind of doing a practice week, it’s maybe the same thing every single day and can be a bit boring. Whereas now I have something away from the court which takes my mind off tennis but also gives me a little bit of freshness. That’s how it feels to me.”
A lot has happened since Murray won Wimbledon three years ago but all of it has made him better, stronger and a more complete player.
And with Lendl to guide him and Sophia to distract him, he could not be better placed for another tilt at the title.