ANDY Murray had just won more than half a million quid and the hearts of most of the nation.
But, when he retreated to his millionaire’s mansion in Surrey after losing to Roger Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, did he try to lift his spirits with an expensive bottle of champagne? Did he drown his sorrows in an expensive malt? Did his girlfriend cook him his favourite meal? No, he ordered a couple of takeaway pizzas and turned on the telly. Murray was crushed after that defeat. He had played well but just not well enough against the greatest Grand Slam champion of all time. And it hurt. It hurt like never before. He knew before Sue Barker summoned him over for the regulation courtside chat that it would all end in tears. He even warned Federer that it would not be pretty. He could not bear the disappointment and all he wanted to do was run away and deal with his emotions in private. But that is not the way it works for professional athletes and so, in front of the 15,000 on Centre Court and a worldwide TV audience, Murray blubbed. And most people blubbed along with him.
“As an athlete, you would rather be able to control your emotions – and that’s something we spend a lot of our career trying to do,” Murray recalled. “And that day, yeah, I was just unable to do it and I knew before I went up to speak, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. And I said to Roger: ‘I’m sorry but I’m not in a good place here’. He understands. He’s been in that position before more times than me.
“It was tough because, a lot of times, you are upset after matches but you don’t have to do a speech in front of millions of people. And sometimes people have a bad day at work and they can go home and they are in a bad mood when they get home, but the people at work don’t necessarily know that.
“It was the same with that. Everything boiled over on the court. I would rather that had happened in the locker room afterwards but it didn’t. And then, obviously, I went home and I was just really upset for the rest of that evening and probably two, three days afterwards.
“But I’d say once I actually got back on the court, that was when I started to feel better. It was the first time I’d responded well to a defeat so it was maybe good that I’d sort of got all those emotions out and didn’t kind of keep them bubbled up. I got them out of my system and got back to work.”
After that tearful speech, when, at last, Murray was allowed to escape to the sanctuary of the locker room, coach Ivan Lendl gave him one little nugget of wisdom – never again would he have to play a match under so much pressure. It had been 74 years since Britain had had a home-grown men’s finalist (Bunny Austin in 1938) and 76 years since they had a champion (Fred Perry, who else?) and so Murray’s march to the final had whipped the crowd into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation.
Lendl had never seen anything like it but he knew it was a one-off. Should Murray reach the final this year, it will not be a novelty. After all, Murray has reached two more grand slam finals since then and won one of them.
“I didn’t go into that match necessarily thinking about that [the history], everything that went with it,” Murray said. “I think there was a little bit there subconsciously, but I wasn’t going to the match worrying about how long it had been or anything like that.
“I was still unbelievably nervous before the US Open final, maybe more than the Wimbledon final, last year. But I think that the guys that are in my team and everyone that’s around kind of see everything that goes on with Wimbledon and probably see the papers a little bit more than me and watch the TV a little bit more so they get a sense for how big it is whereas I just try to stay switched off from all of that and not worry about that.
“All of the guys I work with, before I play a big match there’s going to be nerves there. I’m sure even Ivan gets nervous and he’s been in those positions as a player and now obviously as a coach. I don’t mind that. It shows that everyone cares but it is a stressful time. It’s times that we can look back on and kind of enjoy them, I’m sure, when I’ve finished playing but it is stressful when you are preparing for a slam final or something like that. It’s not easy.”
The public, though, have a better understanding of what it might be like to be Andy Murray. He may wear shorts to go to work and tennis may just be a game, but these big matches are what he has worked towards every day of his life for the past 20 years. And he is still only 26.
When he tried to explain how much he had wanted to win the trophy for his friends and family who had supported him every step of the way, for his team who had got him to that Wimbledon final and for the crowd for cheering him on, round after round, the penny finally dropped with the paying public. Murray cares. He cares as much as we do. We are all in this together. And with that new insight, Murray and his new fan club marched hand-in-hand to the Olympics and the gold medal.
“At the Olympics and probably after Wimbledon last year, people probably saw a slightly different side to me,” he said.
“On the court, when I’m playing the matches, I’m extremely focused and basically just trying to do my best. I’m not laughing and joking around when I’m on the court.
“I think, after Wimbledon, everyone probably saw how hard I was trying and how much it meant to me.
“I was giving everything I had and then wasn’t able to get over that final hurdle.
“At the Olympics, everyone was right behind me. It wasn’t just me, it was all the athletes and the support was amazing and that helped me get through the Olympics and not have any sort of let-down.
“After I’d lost in slam finals before, it had taken me sometimes a few months to get over it. After Wimbledon, I felt really good on the practice court ten days later.” But, for all that, it was still his nearest and dearest – Kim Sears, his girlfriend of eight years, pictured below, and mum, Judy – who tried to put Murray back together again after Federer had broken his heart.
His team had done their work to get him to the final but, as they went their separate ways, he was left alone to deal with his emotions. He did not have long before he had to get back to work and prepare for the Olympics but Kim and Judy knew not to rush things. And Murray knew that it was as hard for them to see him in such a state as it was for him to go through it.
“I think it’s a tough situation for everyone because they know how upset you are but it’s tough not to sort of try to baby you,” Murray explained. “You’re quite sensitive and you get on the defensive straight away if someone says something to you, “you’re great” or “don’t worry about it” or whatever it is. It’s tough to explain but they were extremely supportive and they obviously did a good job of picking me up.
“The guys that I work with see all of the effort that I put in. They don’t always see what it’s like when I go home in the evening. After the Wimbledon final, for a few days afterwards, it was tough for me and they weren’t around.
“They don’t always see those things and they don’t see how much that match hurt me or how long it took me to get over that.
“But, obviously, the people that you’re around every day in your personal life, they’re kind of involved in that. They see all those emotions away from the court. It was a lot easier to let them know how much that had meant to me because they’d seen all that.”
And now, 12 months later, Murray is returning to the Centre Court. His draw is not as bad as it could have been and he has avoided the “quarter of death”, the section of the draw which pits Rafael Nadal against Federer in the quarter-finals. If Federer is to retain his title, he will, potentially, have to play Nadal then Murray in the semi-finals and Djokovic in the final. Murray has drawn Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters, a man he has beaten eight times in nine previous meetings.
The All England Club, too, will help ease his nerves as the minutes tick by until his opening match against Benjamin Becker. He has become used to the place – the people are familiar, the courts are his place of work. He feels at home there. His back problems have been resolved thanks to a revised training regime and a lot of physiotherapy and so, with the crowd behind him, the world No.2 is ready to try again to get his hands on that famous trophy.
“It helps the player when the crowd is behind you and that goes for every single sport,” Murray said.
“I’ve said it many times: that’s why it’s a lot harder for Barcelona to win against Man United at Old Trafford and why Man United find it harder to win against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. That’s how sport works when you have the crowd right behind you. I just know how much help it is. I just find when they’re extremely noisy and vocal, that helps me and I’ve enjoyed playing in those atmospheres my whole career.”
And should Murray end Britain’s 77-year drought and win the title in a fortnight’s time, there may, again, be a few tears. But, if he is the Wimbledon champion, Murray won’t mind. And, if he does emerge victorious, you can bet your life he won’t be ordering takeaway pizza when he gets home.