Yes, it is true that Andy Murray lost his one and only competitive match on grass before Wimbledon – he was edged out of the Aegon Championships 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 by Nicolas Mahut on Wednesday – but that does not mean his summer plans now lie in ruins. There are still eight days to go before Andymonium begins in SW19 and that is more than enough time for him to find his feet on the green stuff.
In some ways, the early loss at Queen’s Club might have been a blessing in disguise. Murray has been carrying a back injury for the past six months, one that the medics tell him will only heal with rest and time. With that in mind, he told his brother that he would not be available for doubles duty last week. Looking at the long summer he has ahead of him (Wimbledon, the Olympics and then the US Open), perhaps a two-and-a-half hour work out against Mahut and a couple of exhibition matches this week at The Boodles will turn out to be better for his ailing back.
The adjustment from clay courts to grass is one of the hardest and the swiftest the players have to make. In the time it takes for the Eurostar to travel from Gare du Nord to St Pancras, the fit and the famous have to forget everything they have been doing for the past two months – the long, laborious rallies and careful point construction – and bounce off the train ready for the biff-bash-boff on the lush, green courts of Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. For some, the change is painful and difficult but for Murray, twice a champion at Queen’s and three times a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, stretching his toes on the grass is a rare pleasure in an otherwise monotonous schedule.
“It’s just different,” he said. “It’s such a short season. In some ways the rest of the season can get boring in away. Every week after Wimbledon, hard courts are basically the only surface that’s used for, like, five or six months, whereas when you go to the grass, you have literally just a few weeks.
“It’s so different. It’s nice for me, anyway. My body doesn’t hurt. For me there’s less stress on the body than on the hard courts. And it’s a different style of tennis, a different mentality you go on the court with. I’ve liked it. I just like it because it’s different, very different to the rest of the tour. And I can move well on it quite quickly, whereas on the clay it takes me a good few weeks before I feel like I’m moving properly.”
No wonder, then, that he shot his interrogator down in flames when it was suggested that losing to Mahut was a worry.
“Oh, panic stations,” he said sarcastically. “I’ve just got no chance to be ready for Wimbledon now. It’s going to be impossible, I think.”
Mahut is a wily old campaigner who knows his way around a grass court and, after being a part of the sport’s longest-ever match two years ago at Wimbledon – he lost 68-70 in the fifth set against John Isner – he ought to. He can serve and volley, he can hit a mean return and, with Murray playing well only in patches, it was never going to be an easy match-up. What matters more is what Murray does in the coming days.
As the top men make their way to London, some coming via the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, the English capital will be heaving with potential sparring partners for Murray in the next few days. With coach Ivan Lendl to watch the Scot’s every move, his preparations will be meticulous and thorough, so a lack of match play on grass will matter little. And, having played 18 sets in nine days at Roland Garros, he knows he is match-tight.
Andre Agassi used to go back home to the United States to practise on a hard court in between the French Open and Wimbledon – he felt it made his ball striking cleaner – and Novak Djokovic, the defending Wimbledon champion, prefers not to play in the two weeks leading up to The Championships. Even Roger Federer, normally a stalwart at the Halle event, has twice in the past skipped his annual trip to Germany and then gone on to win in SW19. Murray, then, is in good company by restricting himself to the practice courts this week instead of looking for another tournament to play.
Andy Roddick may have bowed out of Queen’s on the same day as Murray and then beetled down to the south coast to play in Eastbourne but the American has not won a match since March. He is just desperate to get a win of any description under his belt. Murray is in a different league to the struggling Roddick. So, as the rain clouds gather over SW19, Murray has no cause for concern – with a roof over Centre Court, not even the weather forecasters can hurt him now. It is just like old Jonesy used to say: “Don’t panic!”