Andy Murray: Ultra-competitive nature fuelled single-minded rise to the top
ANYONE who doubted Andy Murray had the will to finally win a major after so many setbacks – and after Novak Djokovic had come back from two sets down – need only have looked at his history.
Four grand slam final defeats were mere foothills next to the mountains he overcame in his youth.
The tennis came first. Murray was happily swinging a racquet with mother Judy and older brother Jamie when he was just five years old. But then tragedy struck.
Murray was eight when, in 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School armed with four handguns and murdered 16 of Murray’s fellow pupils and one teacher before turning the gun on himself.
The tennis star has always been reluctant to talk about the tragedy but in his autobiography, Hitting Back, he described attending a youth group run by Hamilton and revealed how mum Judy used to give him lifts there in her car.
One year later, there was more upheaval in his young life, as his parents separated.
Andy and Jamie went to live with their father, Willie, although the huge influence of mother Judy has remained to this day. But it was living in the shadow of his older brother, who was once rated the second best junior in the world, that really fuelled the Andy Murray fire.
His first victory against his older sibling came in an under-12 final in Solihull. Afterwards, he taunted Jamie relentlessly until he received a rap on the hand so hard he lost a nail.
Murray could have revelled in his new found one-upmanship and, after all the childhood trauma, he might have been forgiven if he had clung to his family and all that was familiar.
But, even then, Murray was driven by the restless desire to improve which has characterised his rise to Olympic and US Open champion. He saw that a precocious young Spaniard called Rafael Nadal was practising with top ten player Carlos Moya, while he was trading blows with Jamie, and decided to spread his wings.
So, in his mid-teens, he shunned the Lawn Tennis Association in favour of a move to Barcelona, where he trained on the clay courts of the Sanchez-Casal Academy. He was homesick and his schoolwork suffered but it was worth it.
Speaking of his experiences last year, he said: “It’s the best decision I ever made in tennis. It wasn’t the easiest, or nicest, decision to have to make – to leave home at 15 – but it was the right thing for me, something I needed to do.”
The decision to move to Barcelona was vindicated when he won the junior US Open in 2004. That was the moment the British tennis watching public began to suspect they had a star in the making.
However, the relationship between Murray and the fans has been far from smooth.
In 2006, a Murray joke that he would be supporting “anyone but England” at that summer’s World Cup was not unanimously taken with the humour intended.
But then Murray has been equally irritated by shouts of “come on Tim” from the Wimbledon crowds.
However, after his lion-hearted defeat to Roger Federer at Wimbledon this year, and the tearful dignity of his emotional speech which followed, he has become a British – as well as Scottish – sporting icon.
His hopes and dreams have been the nation’s hopes and dreams.
One of his earliest coaches, Pato Alvarez, insisted he was a better player than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – a claim he made before the Olympic and US Open triumphs. “He’s more explosive. He has a better backhand. He has a better serve,” he was quoted as saying.
But there is another attribute, which is not limited to the world of racquet sports, but has been credited with getting Murray to the point where he is today.
His junior coach, Leon Smith, now Davis Cup captain and one of the most important figures in British tennis, described the five-year-old he first saw wielding a tennis racquet back in Dunblane in 1993 as “unbelievably competitive”.
It is a phrase also used to describe Murray by John McEnroe, winner of seven grand slam singles titles and another of the game’s great competitors.
It is what took him to the US Open junior title, and then into the top ten of the men’s game.
It helped establish him in the top four and then drove him to relentlessly pursue Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
Lesser characters might have started to believe the “never win a major” whispers that began to haunt his steps, but not Murray, and perhaps that is why the whisperers were proved wrong.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east