GIVEN the pressure placed on Andy Murray from the moment he broke on to the scene, all wild hair, emotional outbursts, unreserved grit and, more importantly, bursting with potential, there was no doubting the nation craved a Wimbledon men’s champion.
They wanted it almost as much as Murray did himself.
The oohs and aahs that have provided the soundtrack to almost every match he has ever played on the green grass of SW19 reinforced that view, but last Monday’s BBC documentary about last season’s success rammed it home emphatically.
Through to the second week of this year’s Championships, the defending champion says he hasn’t seen the entire programme.
“I haven’t watched it in full, I plan to do it after the tournament has finished. I know they spoke to a lot of different people and I managed to see a few of the clips of different people’s reactions.
“Some of the stories were hilarious, and it’s great that so many people were supporting me. However, the story that struck most was of Esme and her family. She was a lovely girl and it was a pleasure to meet and chat with her and her family last year. Although Esme didn’t get the chance to see me lift the trophy, for the family to be able to use my win as something positive and to enable them to cope with the incredibly sad event of losing Esme, that makes me happy.”
The film followed individuals as they took in the win at home, snatched updates on a plane, or, in Esme’s case, watched the match on her death bed.
The terminally ill teenager from Kinross had met her tennis hero as part of a bucket list and she breathed her last surrounded by her family as they all watched him take control of last year’s final and close in on victory. The family took comfort from the fact she died happy.
There are many who will have feared they would never see a homegrown men’s champion in their lifetime but now that Murray has delivered, the desperation has subsided.
“I think after winning it last year, the pressure of wanting to win definitely was finally released. I had worked very hard for a long time in order to get myself into a position where I was able to win the Championship. Obviously I’m still feeling the pressure and the nerves but this year, they are completely different. I like having the nerves and I’m able to use them positively.”
The public demands are less intense but the drawback of being a two-time grand slam champion who has proved he can handle the burden of expectation and triumph on the most famous grass court in the world is that he is now a significant scalp and no-one on the opposite side of the net is going to stand on ceremony.
“To be honest not that much has changed on the court,” said Murray. “After I won, a lot of the players knew how big it was for a British man to win Wimbledon so they were all thrilled for me. However, as soon as we were all back on the tour it was back down to business. Winning any tournament is great and it gives you that belief that you have what it takes. Off the court, obviously the immediate aftermath was pretty crazy but it calmed down after a few weeks. I still get recognised a lot, though. It’s safe to say I’ve been asked for more ‘selfies’ in the last 12 months than ever before.”
But last summer’s achievement has brought him some peace and it has been evident in his demeanour throughout the first week. As he walked freely around the near empty All England Club yesterday, unencumbered by fans and autograph hunters, fitting in a training session at Aorangi Terrace, he was relaxed. Coming through the first week in impressive form, spending a paltry five hours 12 minutes on court as he moved into the last 16, can have that effect on a player, but he says that sense of serenity is also helped by the personality of his new coach, Amelie Mauresmo.
“It’s great having Amelie around, she’s a very calm person but also incredibly supportive, so naturally that helps me. She’s also a great listener, and if I have any concerns, she’ll listen to them and then we’ll work through them in practice.”
That peace will be shattered today. When he steps out second on Centre Court to play Kevin Anderson, he will be the bookies’ favourite and the crowd’s. But if last year’s glory inflated his fame and brought him a new wave of fans, he is grateful the celebrity status does not reach the giddy heights of some of the people who are keen to get into see him these days.
Following on from the likes of Bradley Cooper and Gerald Butler last year, Ricky Gervais was the famous fan on Friday night. Today, One Direction are expected to be on hand to cheer him on and he is happy that no matter how many slams he goes on to win, he is never likely to be besieged to the same extent as the world famous boy band.
“I have a lot of respect for anyone that has to deal with that level of hysteria and fame. I’m still quite fortunate, I can often put a cap on and walk my dogs with [his girlfriend] Kim and go relatively unnoticed.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like if every time I left the house there were crowds of screaming fans. It must be tough, but then at the same time, if it weren’t for those screaming fans then they wouldn’t be as huge as they are globally, so I guess everything comes at a price.”
Murray has paid a high price for his success. From the thousands of hours spent honing his skills, the lonely hours away from home, the self-sacrifice and missed Christmases with the family, his success has come at a cost.
However, it’s a price he will happily keep paying provided the rewards are as good as they were last year when history was made and he shed a tonne of pressure from his shoulders.