EXCELLENCE is achieved by few, and maintained by even fewer. Andy Murray may be under less pressure this year as a result of winning here 12 months ago, but he knows that hitting the heights he did in 2013 could be even harder this time round.
The Scot will not need to be at his absolute best in today’s second-round match on No 1 Court against Blaz Rola of Slovenia – an eight-out-of-ten performance along the lines of his straight-sets victory against David Goffin should be enough. But he knows he will have to reach that level soon if he is to make it two Wimbledon titles in a row.
And, as a keen student of other sports, Murray is aware of just how elusive sustained success can be. Take basketball. He has just seen Miami Heat – the team he supports as a result of all the time he spends training in Florida – reach their fourth NBA finals in a row. They lost to San Antonio Spurs, but even getting that far was an achievement in itself, something that only the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics had previously done.
Asked how tough it was for an individual or a team to keep putting themselves in a winning position, he said: “It’s tough. They are very different sports – basketball is a team sport where tennis is individual – but I think it’s the hardest thing in sport to keep getting to the latter stages of the major events and performing year in year out.
“Why? Because people keep improving, young players start coming through, you start to age a little bit. It becomes harder to improve your game when you get older. You can make up for that with experience and understanding of how to deal with certain situations.
“But, yeah, it’s a hard thing to do. You have to look after yourself. At the end of the day it’s a sport we are playing, so it’s not that hard – but for what we do, it’s challenging to stay mentally focused and sharp.”
As he faces up to the challenge of defending a title he has won only once, Murray has come to admire the achievement of Rafael Nadal all the more. “For me, what Rafa has done at the French Open might be the biggest achievement in all of sports,” the 27-year-old continued.
“For an individual to win a tournament nine out of ten years, a tournament that is so physical…it is mentally very draining as well. It’s very, very impressive.”
Murray was relieved to get his defence under way on Monday, not only because he was becoming nervous with the wait, but because he had lost count of the number of times he had been asked ‘What’s it going to be like to go out on Centre Court to defend the Wimbledon title for the first time?’
“I’ve been asked about it a lot over the last couple of months,” he explained.
“Even if you feel fine about it in your head and people ask you about it every single day, it starts to become a bigger deal. Just like winning Wimbledon – every single day someone asks you. It gets bigger and bigger in your head. I enjoyed [the Goffin match]. It was nice. I’m glad I handled the situation well. It was a nice experience.”
Playing Rola, a tougher, more robust opponent, will not be quite so nice, and Murray is prepared for a more demanding encounter. “He’s a big guy. He takes chances. He goes for his shots.
“He probably doesn’t have much grass-court experience because he hasn’t been on the tour that long. He’s going to do well, for sure, because he has weapons. I haven’t seen him play loads. I saw him play his match against James [Ward] at the French Open.
“But he’s a tricky opponent with his style and being a big guy, he can generate power from the back of the court. He moves pretty well for a big guy too.”
One problem for top players such as Murray is their relative lack of information about more lowly-ranked opponents such as Rola. In time his new coach Amelie Mauresmo and his friend and hitting partner Dani Vallverdu could accumulate more information, but at present there is no difference in his level of preparation than there was under previous coach Ivan Lendl.
“No more or less than Ivan would, to be honest,” he replied when asked how much Vallverdu would know about Rola. “For ten years he didn’t watch hardly any tennis except for the end of majors basically. He knew quite a lot about the higher-ranked guys, but he wouldn’t have watched Rola play before.
“Amelie, I’m sure, will watch video and scout when she and Dani get the chance to go out and watch matches involving future opponents. She did it at Queen’s. She went out and watched [Radek] Stepanek after my match with [Paul-Henri] Mathieu.
“Or maybe he played the day before – but she went out to watch him against [Bernie] Tomic. Everyone is different. Some people prefer to go to the court and watch matches live because you see different stuff. Some people prefer to watch video. She’s obviously going to do some things differently to Ivan.”
Murray himself, by contrast, does not want to do many things too differently from last year. Rediscovering a winning formula is hard enough, so there is little point in tinkering with it.