THE hours are slowly counting down to the start of Wimbledon and Andy Murray is the calmest man in town.
He has a new coach, a decent draw and, more importantly, that old, familiar feeling back again: it is good to be home.
When the champion begins the defence of his title on Monday, the world’s media will watch his every move, most of Britain will be keeping everything crossed that he can do it again and the bookies will be having a field day, but Murray is prepared. He has had to defend a grand slam title before – even if his attempt ended in the quarter-finals last summer at the US Open – but this time it will be different.
Last August, his head was still spinning from winning in SW19 and his back was causing him so much pain, it was almost unbearable. As he walks through the gates of the All England Club today, he is feeling fit and well and after reaching the semi-final at the French Open just a couple of weeks ago, he knows his game is in good shape. But what pleases him most is that that old desire and hunger to compete, to prove himself against the best and win the biggest titles, is back as strong as ever.
“To be honest I didn’t really learn loads from the US Open last year,” he said. “At the time, I was struggling a bit for motivation, I was struggling with my back as well, so I didn’t enjoy the week’s build-up that much. It wasn’t that much fun being on the court.
“For a few weeks after Wimbledon and a couple of months afterwards, it was different, not having motivation. For me, that’s not a nice feeling because I’m used to being extremely motivated so there are parts of winning Wimbledon that made me happy and there were some things, like when I was struggling to get up for practices and training, that weren’t that nice, but now I feel the same as before.
“Obviously, defending Wimbledon is going to be different [to the US Open]. I have defended titles before, at smaller events obviously, but I think people make more of it than the players actually do. I know when I walk out on to the court it’s going to be different initially, but once I’m two games into the match I won’t be thinking about last year at all. I’ll be thinking about this year’s event and that’s what I’m here to do.
“I’m not here to think about last year. I’m here to concentrate on what I need to do this year.” And what he needs to do is make the most of the opportunity the draw has offered him. He is in the top half of the draw and so seeded to meet Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, not that either man will be looking that far ahead. Instead Murray will focus his full attention on David Goffin, the diminutive Belgian with a world ranking of 104, who only made it into the main draw by the skin of his teeth and a handful of ranking points. The little man from Rocourt is the first obstacle to be overcome if Murray wants to retain his title.
Goffin made his name a couple of years ago at the French Open. Making his way through qualifying, he went on to reach the fourth round in the main event and once there, had the temerity to take a set from Roger Federer, his boyhood idol. Back then, he was 21 but looked all of 12 and two seasons later, he has barely aged a day. He has not set the world alight with his tennis, either. He cannot quite believe his luck that he will open the tournament against Murray on Monday even if the form book suggests that his moment in the spotlight may be all too brief.
Murray’s quarter of the draw is packed tight with clay court men – Roberto Bautista Agut, Fabio Fognini, Andreas Seppi and David Ferrer. All are fine players in their own right but none is sure of the green stuff beneath his feet. Ferrer has reached a couple of quarter-finals in the past two years but he will have to face either Grigor Dimitrov, the winner at Queen’s Club last week, or Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth round to repeat the feat.
As for Djokovic, he has a lot of work to do before he can think about playing Murray. Potentially, he could face Radek Stepanek in the second round – the man who beat Murray at Queen’s – and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round. Then he could find himself facing the big and awkward challenge of Tomas Berdych in the quarters-finals. The draw sheet does not make happy reading for the former champion who is, reportedly, still struggling with a wrist injury.
Murray, meanwhile, has a smile on his face again. He has now spent a little under two weeks with Amelie Mauresmo and he is cautiously optimistic that this new relationship might just last. At the moment, they are still getting to know each other, a process that was not helped by their very public profile at Queen’s Club last week, but so far, so good: both Murray and Mauresmo (or 2AM as they are otherwise known), are getting along famously.
“I think obviously the first few days it wasn’t the perfect place to start,” Murray said with a smile. “Every time we were on the practice court and she stood anywhere near me, there was the clicks of a hundred cameras. But since then we’ve managed to get away from everything and spend some time together on court and I had dinner with her on Wednesday night. She has fitted into the team very well and very quickly.
“For me, it is not based on results. You cannot, as a coach, change anything in five or six days. It is silly to suggest anything otherwise. But what I can sense is whether I feel like things we are working on in practice are the right things, whether I feel like we are able to communicate well and tactics and the way we talk after a match, how she looks into matches and stuff. That is what I will get a judge of. I could lose in the first round at Wimbledon and it certainly wouldn’t be her fault.”
Losing, though, is not on his mind. What he learned in the final last year, and in the two weeks leading up to it, has settled his mind and renewed his confidence. Never again will he have to face the pressure of ending Britain’s wait for a champion; now he only has to face his own, personal pressure: Murray wants to win again. And again.
“I feel calm right now but most people are asking me what it is going to feel like coming back as defending champion,” he said, looking a little bemused. “I am more concerned about the event this year and trying to win it again. Having won last year can only help. Having had that experience; understanding how to win; the way the match finished, the pressure and the nerves that I dealt with in that match. Coming back from two sets to love down against Verdasco [in the quarter-finals] as well. I experienced a lot of things last year that can only help me this year. I just hope I play well and have a good tournament.”
And if he does play well and does have a good tournament then prising that famous trophy from his grasp will take some doing.