When Andy Murray steps into the O2 Arena tomorrow afternoon for his opening match in the ATP World Tour Finals, do not expect success to have changed him. Not one jot.
True, he has had a haircut (and, for once, it looks as if he has not done it himself) and he will be entering the fray as a grand slam champion for the first time but not a lot else has changed. Not for Murray the monogrammed blazer and flannels of a Roger Federer or the shorts emblazoned with his nickname, à la Novak Djokovic. And, unlike Rafael Nadal, he will not sport shoes decorated with his name and little images of the grand slam trophies he has won. Adidas did offer, but it is not really Murray’s style.
“I got asked about it but I didn’t really fancy it,” he said, staring down at his all-black trainers accented only by fluorescent yellow shoelaces. “I’ve never really understood why people have names on their shoes but these are the ones I’m wearing for the O2. They’re quite bright.”
No, this is the same old Murray, the man who, in the strongest era his sport has ever seen, has muscled his way to the top by doing it his way. The heart-breaking defeats in major finals have only made his success all the sweeter – and made him more determined than ever not to endure such misery again – but it has not changed him. Remember, this is the bloke who traded in his Ferrari after a few months because it was too flash and, in his own words, he “felt a bit of a prat” driving it around Surrey. Admittedly, his idea of downsizing was to buy an Aston Martin but at least the colour was a sober grey.
What has changed is the public perception of him – and he is hoping that this will give him a helping hand in the coming days. To reach the Tour Finals is an achievement in itself – and this is Murray’s fifth appearance in the end-of-season showcase – but winning it takes a superhuman effort at the end of an exhausting year. There are no easy draws, no easy matches. Only the top eight in the world are eligible to play so every round is like playing a grand slam quarter-final or better. But, after experiencing the wave of patriotic fervour that helped carry him to the Olympic gold medal and having been taken aback by the public response to his US Open triumph, Murray cannot wait to get back in front of 17,000 cheering Brits and cap his stunning year with his first Tour Finals win.
“The support at the Olympics was unbelievable, so I would like something like that if possible,” he said. “You do need it and it does help when you’re playing against the best players in the world. It does give you that lift. It gives you extra motivation, especially at the end of the season, where physically you may not be feeling perfect. It helps to have that little boost.”
Murray, guided by Ivan Lendl, will start his campaign against Tomas Berdych in Group A tomorrow with Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lying in wait for him later in the week. With Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic in Group B, it does seem as if the world No.3 is stuck in the Group of Death – not that he sees it that way.
“Against all the guys here, you’re going to have to play a top-quality match to win,” he said, “but you’re going to have to make adjustments to your tactics – slight ones – so I’ll go through the tactics for that match with Ivan on Sunday.”
The first three rounds are round-robin matches so an opening-night defeat is not the end of the world. But with barely a fag paper between the top three (Nadal is absent with a knee injury), every match win could be vital and every set could make the difference between qualifying for the semi-finals or going home empty handed. But as he has discovered in the past few weeks, the pressures at the top of the game are an awful lot easier to handle with a grand slam trophy sitting on your mantelpiece.
“I feel a little bit more maybe relaxed coming in this year than I have done in previous years because I managed to win the US Open,”
Murray said. “But there’s going to be pressure on me here to play well. The only thing I can guarantee is to give 110 per cent on the court, fight as hard as I can to the end of all the matches and see where that gets me. I hope it will get me a few wins.”