Alix Ramsay: Fan connection more important to Murray

Scotland’s champion will reap the rewards but the fact that he’s ‘reconnected’ with the fans is much more important to him

Scotland’s champion will reap the rewards but the fact that he’s ‘reconnected’ with the fans is much more important to him

It could only happen in America. As Andy Murray waited to receive the gleaming trophy he had spent a lifetime dreaming of, as he was being applauded for becoming the first British man to win a grand slam title in 76 years, as he tried to come to terms with the fact that he was now the US Open champion, he had to wait. Mary Carillo, the host of the presentation ceremony, had important business to conduct: “But first, to present your prize money cheque for $1.9million is president and CEO of Mercedes Benz America…” In America, history is bunk, it is sponsorship and hard cash that counts.

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Actually, on the court, the new champion was presented with an empty envelope. It was his mum, Judy, who was spotted clutching the real cheque a little later – a very sensible woman, she was not going to entrust it to a bunch of over-excited boys – but Murray did not care.

If the envelope had contained nothing but sweetie wrappers, he would not have minded. He was a grand slam winner at last and that is all that mattered.

“It’s obviously a ridiculous amount of money,” Murray said. “I’ve no idea what I’ll do with that. I have an accountant who will hopefully look after it well. But, yeah, it’s weird. It’s just not something you think about, like when I’m serving for the match or anything, but then it’s such a ridiculous amount of money that it should really figure but it really doesn’t, which I think is obviously a good thing. In tournaments like that, you’re playing for a place in history rather than for the money.

“It’s my biggest cheque that I’ve ever won on the tennis court by an absolute mile, I would have thought. It’s an incredible amount of money. It’s just an amazing amount of money. I never thought I would be playing matches for that much when I was a kid.”

It is ten years since the 15-year-old Murray packed his bags and headed for Barcelona. With big ambitions, a precocious talent and a teenager’s enthusiasm for adventure, he had no idea then that he was a decade of hard work and heartache away from rewriting the history books. He believed that he could be a contender and those who saw him knew he had the potential but did not know then where his journey would take him.

It only took a couple of years for the spindly lad from Dunblane to make his mark by winning the US Open junior title in 2004 and, the following year, turning professional and reaching his first tournament final – he lost to Roger Federer in Bangkok. He ended that season as the world’s 64th best player.

By that Christmas, Murray was the darling of British tennis. New, different and with talent in abundance, he had reached the third round at Wimbledon and, thanks to those three matches, he had become an overnight sensation. But he was only 18 years old and basically shy so, when he was first thrust into the spotlight, it took him time to understand the workings of fame and the media. When he made the occasional gaffe – the infamous football joke during the 2006 World Cup still haunts him – he was stung by the reaction.

“I was just more disappointed. I feel like I hadn’t really done much wrong,” Murray recalled. “When I played Wimbledon the year that that happened I was only 19 or 20 at the time – I was still a kid – and I was getting things sent to my locker saying things like: ‘I hope you lose every tennis match for the rest of your life.’

“But I started to understand how things worked a bit better after that and started to become a bit more guarded. And also speaking to people about it and how to deal with that stuff helped me. You need to try to be yourself as much as possible but, at the same time, if people don’t like you, it’s not really your problem. You need to make sure that you stay true to yourself and the people around you and hopefully things will turn round.”

It has taken until this summer for the public to realise that the Andy Murray who had to choke back the tears as he thanked everyone for their support after the Wimbledon final was the same likeable lad who had so impressed them back in 2005. Murray had not changed much in the intervening years – save for the fact that he had become a far better player and a serial grand slam finalist – and when the public saw that, they fell in love with him all over again.

“I think it was more re-connecting, because when I first started playing at Wimbledon the support I had was unbelievable,” he said.

“Everyone was saying to me: ‘A breath of fresh air. It’s so different to whatever Tim or Greg were like’. I was so excitable and so motivated and maybe said things in the press that maybe I shouldn’t have said and whatnot. You get away with it when you’re young.

“I was still young when I was 19 or 20, but people start to question you and look into the way you’re acting on the court. Everything that you’re saying is judged and you need to become a bit more careful. So I think over the last few months I’ve definitely had that connection come back and I hope it stays that way, because it helps.”

That support propelled Murray to the Olympic gold medal and then, in turn, pushed him over the final hurdle and on to his first grand slam title. Although he is only now returning to the practice courts in preparation for tournaments in Japan and China before he comes back to Europe for the indoor season which culminates in the ATP World Tour Finals in London, he wants his US Open success to be the launching pad for a charge to the world No.1 ranking.

“I think the end of this year, with the Tour Finals, and the beginning of next year is really where it’s most important that I play well,” he said. “I didn’t do anything at the Tour Finals [last year]. I obviously pulled out of there [with a back injury], I pulled out of Basel hurt and didn’t really do much in Paris – I made the quarters there – so there’s an opportunity there.

“Obviously, I can’t control what the other guys do but I can control what I do. If I have five or six solid tournaments, if I can stick with that and with an extra bit of belief and confidence in those big matches then hopefully I can go on a decent run. But the next couple of months may be hard as well. I don’t know. I might find it difficult for a number of reasons for the next couple of months. But I’ll try to keep it going. I want to move on from this and try to win more grand slams.”

If he does, there will be more of those massive paydays. Murray was a kid in Barcelona when he earned his first winner’s cheque – around £100, he thinks – and in those days, his idea of fun was to take the bus into town for some chicken McNuggets. Now he is a man of the world, a multi-millionaire and the US Open champion, he must have more sophisticated tastes, surely? Apparently not. His $1.9million will not be spent on champagne and caviar – but he might just order in an extra box of Wall’s Feast ice cream lollies.

“I can get through about three or four of them in a day when I’m at home,” he says. “I can have them midday through to when I got to bed.”

British tennis history may have changed, Murray may be richer than he ever dreamed possible but he is still the same as ever.

He is just better at it these days.