Compared to Hibs and their 114-year wait for cup success, Andy Murray’s historic Wimbledon win of 2013 seems a little tame. After all, Britain had only waited for 77 years to see a home-grown champion; that is nothing compared to the years of angst and disappointment suffered by the Hibs faithful.
But of all the players on the professional tour, Murray knows more than most about pressure. Every player from every generation has watched the British players in SW19 and marvelled at their ability – in varying degrees – to cope with the weight of national expectation. That Murray not only coped but emerged victorious three years ago marked him out as a special breed of champion. And now as his team approaches today’s cup final, the Scot had a few words of advice for the Hibs boys as they tried to end more than a century of misery.
“The most important thing is to try to make the most of it and give your best effort the whole way throughout,” Murray said sagely. “Because, if you do that, you can obviously be disappointed if you lose, but you come away with no regrets.
“I think as an athlete, that’s hard to deal with. If in a big match you feel like you haven’t given everything or you could have done more, that can sit with you for quite a while. Whereas if you go out and do everything you can, try your best to the end regardless of the outcome, you’ll be able to deal with that much, much better.
“So hopefully they win, but there are two teams playing tomorrow; one of them has to lose. So it will be tight.”
At least in Paris, Murray knows that the greatest weight of expectation will be sitting on Novak Djokovic’s shoulders. The world No 1 is desperate to win at Roland Garros and complete his career Grand Slam. Last year seemed to be his best chance: he beat Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, overcame a spirited fight by Murray and was then a set to the good against Stan Wawrinka in the final. And then he lost.
Now Djokovic is back in town knowing that Nadal is playing far better than last year and that Murray has improved yet again on the slow, red clay this year. Only last weekend, the Scot thumped him in straight sets to win the Italian Open final and it is Murray who has returned to Roland Garros with a real glint in his eye.
So confident and assured is the Scot on the clay that he is not in the least bothered by the fact that he parted company with Amélie Mauresmo just a couple of weeks ago. Of course, he would like a high-profile, grand-slam-winning former player to step into the Frenchwoman’s shoes but having relied on Jamie Delgado, his assistant coach, for the past four months, he could not be happier with his form. And, if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it.
“Obviously with the way that everything went in Rome and Madrid [where Murray reached the final] things are going well just now,” he said. “There’s no need to sort of rush into anything. I’m happy with the work I have done with Jamie so far.
“He’s pretty calm, relaxed. On top of that very, very experienced around the tour. He’s played whatever it was, like 25 Wimbledons in a row or 23 Wimbledons in a row, so he’s been around the game a long, long time. He’s a good coach.”
As the world No 2 and the second seed, Murray does not have to worry about Djokovic until the final Sunday should both men get that far. When the draw was made yesterday, it placed Nadal in Djokovic’s half – the world No 1 is, potentially, going to have to beat Nadal and then Murray to claim the trophy.
Murray is scheduled to meet either Stan Wawrinka, the defending champion, or Milos Raonic, the world No 9 and the man he thrashed in Monte Carlo, in the semi-finals. But it is what happens before then that could be tricky: Murray plays 37-year-old Radek Stepanek, the world No 129 in the opening round. The Czech came through the qualifying competition and was only slotted into the draw late yesterday. With only one practice session left before the start of the tournament, Murray had little time to formulate a battle plan. “It’s tough just because the conditions here are different to last week in Rome, and the qualifiers have already won three matches here,” Murray said. “They are probably feeling pretty good about their conditions and comfortable on the courts.
“When you know [who you’ve got in the first round], you can start working on things and start talking about things. But I could have played any one of the 16 qualifiers so you don’t have as much time to start preparing for it and that’s what makes it tricky.”
Tricky but not impossible: Murray beat Stepanek two weeks ago in Madrid.