Preparing for the defence of his first major title, Andy Murray tells Alix Ramsay about the motivation he found to win last year’s event
ANDY MURRAY has not been to the gents yet. He has been in New York for more than a week and has been practising at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center since last Friday, but he has still not been to the gents.
The Scot’s return to Flushing Meadows has brought with it many memories and his first steps out into the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium, the scene of his first, historic grand slam success 12 months ago, brought it all flooding back.
In fact, it gave Murray the chance to enjoy the victory for the first time. When the final point was done against Novak Djokovic last summer, the new champion was in a state of shock. At last he had achieved his lifetime’s dream and won one of the four major championships. And he could not quite believe it.
Coming back to defend his title this year, he has had a chance to reflect and to savour every detail and recollection.
“I think what has really stood out for me has been coming back here and going back out on to the centre court for the first time,” he said.
“Last year I was so relieved at the end that I don’t feel like I really enjoyed it as much as I should have done. It was a bit more enjoyable coming back and being on the court and actually remembering that I had won the tournament last year. At the time, it was frantic and I wasn’t really thinking enough to enjoy that. So coming back here was really nice.
“It was the same thing at Wimbledon. I went back there six or seven days afterwards and I was just there on the court by myself and actually getting to enjoy that moment because when everyone is looking at you and the cameras are on it is very difficult. You enjoy it, but it isn’t the same. I felt like I remembered more about what was going on when I actually went back to the court when there is no-one there.”
But, so far, Murray has not been to the gents.
It was in the bathroom by the centre court that the soon-to-be champion talked himself into winning the title. He had been two sets to the good against Djokovic in the final until the Serb mounted a counter-attack. Slowly, his lead was whittled away until after more than four hours of eye-watering effort, Murray and Djokovic stood all square at two sets apiece. And that is when Murray took himself off for that bathroom break.
“I never talk to myself. Not out loud,” Murray said. “You would never catch me walking around the house and actually saying things to myself. Isn’t that supposed to be the first sign of madness? That is why that toilet break was so unusual. I stood in front of the mirror with sweat dripping down my face and I knew I had to change what was going on inside. I had a drink, a change of T-shirt and a banana with me, but they didn’t really matter. I had to get a grip of my mind. So I started talking. Out loud.
“‘You are not losing this match,’ I said to myself. ‘You are NOT losing this match.’ I started out a little tentative, but my voice got louder. ‘You are not going to let this one slip. You are NOT going to let this slip. This is your time. You have never been closer than this to a grand slam. Give it everything you’ve got. Leave nothing out there.’ At first, it felt a bit weird, but I felt something change inside. I was surprised by my response. I knew I could win.
“I suppose people might say that I am exaggerating the importance of that toilet break,” he continued. “I got a net cord in the opening game and it is possible that things might have worked out differently if it had not crept over the net. But I can only tell you how it felt. I walked into that break weighed down. The mind is so important in top level sport, where the difference between winning and losing is so tiny. When I came out, it was totally different.”
And, so far, Murray has not been back to stare at himself in that mirror again. Then again, from the moment he got his hands on the US Open trophy last year, he has not felt the need of a pep talk again – not while he was losing the Australian Open final to Djokovic in January, nor when he was flattening the Serb in the Wimbledon final two months ago.
The man who has come back to Flushing Meadows to defend his title is a very different one to the nervous, anxious finalist of 2012. Now he knows he has both the physical and mental strength to win major championships. Now he just wants to win as many titles as he can.
Yet defending a grand slam trophy is a new experience for the world No.3 and tennis players are creatures of habit. They do not like the unknown.
In the past, Murray has done well in protecting his silverware (he has retained the titles in San Jose, St Petersburg, the Masters event in Canada and Shanghai over the years), but the prospect of doing it at the US Open increases the pressure beyond measure.
“I probably feel more confident, but I think that, when the tournament rolls around, I will be very nervous,” he explained. “I would expect to be because it is a new experience for me. I have never come into a slam as defending champion so it’s different and when you haven’t experienced something before it makes you feel a bit uneasy or uncertain, so I expect to feel that way and see how I deal with it.”
In the city that never sleeps, finding a bit of peace and quiet is never easy, but Murray is trying his best to live the quiet life and, as defending champion, that is proving difficult. As the bloke with the trophy, he is wheeled out for photo opportunities and media commitments and on Thursday he found himself sitting elbow to elbow with Serena Williams at the draw ceremony.
“It’s been a bit busier, everything that goes with entering a tournament like this as defending champion,” Murray admitted. “More people recognise you, you have to do things like the draw – I guess that is just what you expect. You need to make sure you are very well organised this week. Getting in and out of the city is obviously pretty busy so you need to make sure that the time you have during the day, you are using that properly and not using up too much energy. There is even less going around the city or out in the evenings. It is just getting your stuff done and all the extra bits and pieces you need to do.”
Murray has reached the final of the last four grand slam tournaments he has played in – and he has won two of them.
As the hours tick by before his opening match against Michael Llodra, he has every right to expect himself to be in the thick of the action in two weeks’ time as the US Open heads towards the final weekend. And, unless he finds that he has let slip a two-set lead, he has no plans to go to the gents again.