ANDY Murray has been called many things over the past few months, not the least of which is being referred to as the future of British tennis.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that Scotland's finest is still only 18 years old. In many ways he is a typical teenager - he gives his mother, Judy, grief for her hairstyle and her singing, he bridles at the thought of wearing a suit and a tie (he was given a suit once for Davis Cup duty but looks horrified at the thought of getting another), and he is never seen without his iPod. But those are just some of the trappings that go with being born in 1987. Deep down, Murray is much older than that. When the Black Eyed Peas have been switched off and it is time to get down to business on court, Murray has grown up fast.
Back in January, when he was still a promising junior trying to make his way in the professional ranks, he was ranked 407 in the world. It was asking a lot that he should reach the 200s this year, much less the spot in the top 100 that he craved. And when he kicked off the year slowly, struggling with a back injury and trying to get used to a new coach, it appeared that his goal would be some time in the achieving. His followers were ready to cut him some slack and let him mature at his own pace while his critics thought he was getting too big for his boots. Murray, though, was simply determined.
Ten months later, he stands as the world No.72, a recent finalist at the Thailand Open and the man who has made Roger Federer sit up and take notice. Murray has proved his point and, injuries notwithstanding, there is no stopping him.
His immediate peers are different. Rafael Nadal, the 19-year-old French Open champion, is a phenomenon. The size of a brick-built privy and utterly fearless on court, his rise to fame and fortune has been well documented. But away from the courts, Nadal is just a 19-year-old kid. He is a big puppy who finds all the attention amusing and is still growing into his feet when it comes to dealing with the world. Richard Gasquet is wonderfully talented but, also 19, is painfully shy. The pressure of being France's new hero almost crushed him until he broke free of the family and domestic expectation at the start of the year and started to play as he knew he could. Murray is an altogether different prospect.
As he sat facing a hectic afternoon of interviews arranged by his agents - enough to make a chap want to cry - he handled it all with humour and patience. He is a star now, whether he likes it or not, and this is his life. Tim Henman has been through the same mill for the past decade and has offered Murray a few choice words of advice, but, seemingly, our Andy is going to do it his own way.
The occasional fits of pique and jabs at his critics were a thing of the past. The ambition was still plain to see - "I'd like to win a grand slam and I think I've got a good chance of doing it" - but these were merely the thoughts of a young man who has proved to himself, never mind anyone else, that he can do it.
"By Wimbledon next year I won't be showing as much emotion on court, I don't think," he said. "One reason for it is that I'm such a perfectionist. I get annoyed when I make stupid mistakes."
To have reached his first ATP tour final, and to have pushed Federer 6-3, 7-5 when he got there, has given Murray a new view of life. Wimbledon was a distant memory and the hard slog of the summer circuit was all in the past. Murray had got what he wanted and discovered that it was all he thought it would be and better.
"A couple of months ago I remember watching Coria and looking up to him and what he could do," Murray said. "But now I realise it's Federer who is the one to look up to.
"I don't know if it is just because Federer is so nice or because I played doubles against him before [in the Davis Cup], but he wasn't intimidating. He sets such high standards, and he plays well when he needs to. People as good as him can do that. He's got the best forehand but he doesn't have a massive serve, although he places it well. He moves great, he can do everything - he can serve and volley, he can play hard from the back, he can chip and charge. The hardest part was not knowing what he was going to do next. But there was nothing that I thought 'Jesus, I could never match that'."
He has looked at the tape of the Bangkok final and spotted five key areas to work on with Mark Petchey, his coach. With a large grin, he says he has also looked at tapes of Petchey's old matches and decided there is not a lot he can learn from there. But with the affable Petchey as his sounding board as much as his teacher, the excitement in Murray's eyes is plain to see as he views the upcoming tournaments in Basle and Paris and the Christmas break of training and practise.
"After Queen's I knew that I could reach the top 100 this year," he said without a hint of arrogance. "When Federer was my age, he finished the year at No.64. Then he had a couple of years where he didn't do so well before he started winning. I'd like that - I'd like a couple of years to develop my game. For the next two years I'll still be learning about myself."
The sponsors will be learning about him, too. Endorsed already by Fred Perry clothing, Head racquets, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Robinsons drinks, his bank balance will grow considerably quicker than his ranking. When Henman was in his pomp, he was estimated to earn 4.5million a year before he even got out of bed. The tournaments' prize money is small beer in comparison to the riches on offer from corporate Britain.
The first extra pay day will come at the Aberdeen Cup next month when Murray will lead Scotland against an England side captained by Greg Rusedski. It is an event made for television, it matters little in the general scheme of things but it is an indication of just how much Murray's celebrity status has grown in less than a year.
Not that Murray intends to let fame and fortune change him. "I'm not interested in a big house or flash cars," he said. "I just want to start driving and get around the place. Mum's annoying enough but if I have to spend more time with her in the car it's even worse. Especially with her singing." This brought an unsuppressed hoot of laughter from Judy but she knows it is just Andy through and through. He may only be 18 but he is his own man and he knows that, left alone to get on with it, he will be just fine. As teenagers go, they don't come much older than that.