The look on Matt Gentry’s face said it all. As managing director of 77, Andy Murray’s sports agency, he was managing the most marketable sportsman in the country and one of the most marketable men in the world. And would Murray help him? Would he heck as like. Gentry shook his head and rolled his eyes in despair.
To win Wimbledon is to throw open the doors to Fort Knox, to have your very own philosopher’s stone and win the lottery, all rolled into one. The sponsors and the advertisers stand 20 deep around the champion, all waving wads of cash in return for a little piece of the new superstar. And Murray is having none of it. He will not sell himself to the money men if it means selling himself short on court.
“There have been quite a few offers,” Murray said sombrely, “but for me it is about doing the right stuff and working with people who understand what my goals are and what I am trying to do. It is very easy to sign five or six deals but I want to play tennis and concentrate on trying to win more. It is not only the people in my team, the companies I work with have to understand that as well.
“The week before Wimbledon, for example, is incredibly important for me to prepare properly and train properly and practise and stuff and I don’t want to give up loads of my time this week. For a lot of those companies, that is a bit off-putting as this is the time of the year that they want to be doing loads of things.
“Some players are fine doing a lot of things the week before a slam, but that’s not for me. I am happy with the way things are going.”
And things are going very well at the moment. Practice has been going well, day by day he is getting to know his new coach, Amélie Mauresmo, a little better and the two have been having a lot of fun on court. The sun has even been shining so life could not be any better for the Scot. The old adage goes that it is always easier to get to the top than to stay there, but as Murray heads to Centre Court today, he knows he is as ready as he will ever be to defend his title.
“I feel good. In practice and stuff I have been hitting the ball well and I have played okay,” he said. “There are a few things I could do a little bit better but that was the same thing last year. It has been the same case for many of the years when I have gone into Wimbledon. I’m moving well and my body feels good. It is not sore, so it is down to me to perform and to play well. No player knows how they are going to perform until they get out there on any given day but I have prepared pretty much the best that I could.
“I’m here to try and win the tournament. That’s it. My focus is solely on the first match, preparing properly for that. I feel ready – and that’s it.” Of course, he will feel nervous this morning but he expects that. In fact, he looks forward to it; nerves and a little hit of adrenaline make him think faster while the sweaty palms and the dry throat just mean that he is ready for the off, like a racehorse in the starting stalls. But nerves and anxiety are two totally different issues – and Murray knows that during the course of a two-week Grand Slam, there will be moments of doubt, moments of tension. That is where Mauresmo comes into her own.
When Murray was pacing the locker room before the 2012 US Open final, he turned to Ivan Lendl for a few words of support. The impassive old champion just told him to enjoy the experience. It was not the comforting arm around the shoulder he perhaps hoped for and neither did the advice help him suppress the thought of the hours of painful toil against Novak Djokovic that lay ahead of him. It did not erase the memory of four failed attempts to win a major trophy in the past, either. Lendl’s approach worked, though, but the fact that Mauresmo is the polar opposite of her stony-faced predecessor has brought a freshness to practice and has pricked Murray’s imagination. He is keen to know how Mauresmo felt during major campaigns and how she learned to deal with the doubts and turn herself into a grand slam champion.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I normally feel nervous before these events; it’s because I know to win or go far in the events you need to play great tennis. And when I understand that in my head, I get the nerves. I feel like I focus better on what I need to do. So I believe if I play my best tennis, I’ll give myself a chance of doing well here, putting myself in a position to win the tournament. It’s important to feel like you’re being listened to, because in an individual sport you’re the one that’s on the court. The coach can’t influence things from the stand. You need to be able to explain how you’re feeling at certain stages in matches, why you make certain decisions, why you do certain things when you’re on the court. Then, I think, if the coach listens, it makes their job a lot easier to explain things to you and to get through to you.”
There is not a lot Mauresmo can tell Murray about the practicalities of getting through the next two weeks – this is his ninth title challenge in the past ten years – and, fortunately, there is little she needs to tell him about his new role as the all-conquering hero in SW19. Thanks to Murray’s down-to-earth approach, drive to succeed and refusal to openly milk the fame, the money and the celebrity that go with being a Wimbledon champion, he is still the same, old Andy. “Nothing has changed, to be honest,” he said. “For me, that has probably been the nicest part about it because that was something I was worried about. I had spoken to psychologists before and told them that was something I worried about. I spoke to Ivan about it. That for me has probably been the nicest part. Always when you come back to a Grand Slam, there’s always nerves and pressure there before you start the event. But I feel fairly similar to last year.”
It was feeling like that that won him the title last year. No matter how much Mr Gentry despairs of his boss and top client, he knows that Murray’s method is, like that philosopher’s stone, a winning formula.