Andy Murray says that while there are “sometimes friends” who he’ll want to hang out with if he’s in the right mood, Ross Hutchins is his “anytime friend” who he’s always wanted to be around.
But, while Hutchins thinks he knows his good mate quite well, and was rooting for him even when stricken with cancer, he admits he’s been astonished by what the Scot has achieved in tennis this year.
Murray has battled through to every grand slam final, the Australian where he often makes it to the last day, but also the French when the thinking at one time was that he wasn’t a clay-courter. He’s won in Rome, also on clay, and taken the Queen’s title for a fifth time. Now for Wimbledon.
Maybe, with big guns Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer falling, another final appearance in SW19 was anticipated but Hutchins said expectancy simply brings more pressure and makes Murray’s achievement in reaching his third final at the All-England Club – his 11th in a slam, beating the record of Fred Perry – all the more remarkable.
“I guess the more you win, the older you get and the more established you become, your expectation goes and everyone else’s goes up as well,” said Hutchins, who now works with the ATP. “He’ll want to keep doing what he’s doing in the sport. He’ll want to continue being successful and to have new goals.
“But he’s achieving so much now it’s quite staggering. He’s playing at such a high level that I’m sure winning another slam would mean a lot to him and especially this one.” Hutchins, a doubles specialist who got to both the Wimbledon and US Open quarter-finals in 2011, has been friends with Murray since they met at an under-tens match in Scotland in the early 1990s. By the end of 2012 he and his playing partner Colin Fleming had broken into the top ten in the world but two days after Christmas he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. “I knew it was cancer,” Hutchins said. “I’d seen so many specialists, so many doctors … it was obvious they didn’t want to tell me.”
Murray was stunned by the news. “I remember my exact internal reaction when I found out,” he said. “It wasn’t stress. It wasn’t sadness. It was: ‘Sorry, what?’ It was disbelief – total, utter disbelief. ‘You mean Ross as in … Ross? You mean Hodgkin lymphoma as in … cancer?’”
The following month Murray dedicated his win in the Brisbane International to “one of my closest friends, who is back home watching… you are going to get through it”. And Hutchins did.
At Wimbledon last week Hutchins reflected on that dark time – and the brilliant sunshiny day when his buddy lifted the Wimbledon trophy. “That was very emotional, personally. It was a different time for me back then and a different time for him. It was outstanding how Andy managed to get over the line that day. The success he’s had prior to that and since, winning on Tour, winning ATP events, winning the Davis Cup, winning the Olympics. The amount of success over the years has been quite phenomenal.”
Hutchins ran the rule over Murray’s up-to-the-minute form and how he’s benefited from getting his super-coach Ivan Lendl back. “He’s playing very, very well. He’s at ease with his game and you have to look at what he did on clay prior to getting back with Ivan.
“He got to the semis in Monte Carlo, got to the final of the two Masters 1000 events on the clay, the final of the French Open. Then he won Queen’s. It was an amazing build-up he had to coming to Wimbledon.
“He’s won a lot of matches and when these top guys get into grooves of winning matches, it’s very difficult to push them off their perch.
“As for what Ivan’s brought? He’s played exceptionally well since he came back in. I know Ivan brings a huge amount to Andy’s game, a huge amount to his mind and a huge amount to his confidence. They’re quite a unit to deal with.”
The Hutchins-Murray combo is about to head in a new direction with the latter appointed to the ATP Player Council of which Hutchins is a vice-president. “The Player Council has seen a change of culture in the last couple of years and a lot of players wanted to get involved,” he said. “I often lean on Andy for a lot of opinions anyway. He’s such an important person in our sport. It will be great to have him and Novak [Djokovic] on board.”
But Murray still has plenty of tennis left in him, and plenty of grand slam ambition. Can Hutchins see him playing for as long as the 34-year-old Serena Williams? “It’s tough to say. A lot depends on athletes’ bodies. He seems physically strong right now and seems in a very good place.”