Andy Murray is a man of few vices – he has no interest in booze or fags, any gambling is restricted by the Tennis Integrity Unit and, apart from an appetite for ice cream when he is not in training, his diet is closely monitored and regulated.
But, since his golden summer of 2012, Murray has become an addict. A self-confessed addict.
Winning the gold medal at the London Olympics was, at the time, the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. But when, five weeks later, he followed that up with victory at the US Open, his every dream had been realised. He was a grand slam champion. And it felt bloody marvellous.
When he was younger and still dreaming of winning his first major title, Murray had no idea how success would affect him. Would the hunger to achieve be sated? Would he lose the motivation to work hard? Would he become complacent? Nearly a year on from that gold medal, the answer to all these questions is an emphatic “no”. The world No 2 has experienced the sheer joy of winning a big title and now he wants more. Much, much more.
“Once you get a taste of it, that’s what you want to try to do again, to achieve something like that again if you can,” he said. “That’s why I’m still putting in the work and training hard and trying to give myself the best chance to win another grand slam.
“It’s not always that easy to do it. I think in individual sports it’s an extremely hard thing to do and that’s why what Roger and Rafa and Novak, the last couple of years, what they’ve done is incredible because it’s not an easy thing to do to keep motivating yourself. But for the few months afterwards, I was extremely motivated to try and win more grand slams. I didn’t just think: ‘Oh, great, it’s done now’. I want to try to achieve more and I’m going to give it my best to do that in a couple of weeks’ time.”
As Murray prepares for the first of what he hopes will be seven matches at Wimbledon – he plays Benjamin Becker today – the bookies have him as the second favourite for the title behind Novak Djokovic with Roger Federer, the man who beat him in SW19 last year, coming in a poor fourth at 7-1.
The odds have never been shorter on the Scot and, in truth, the man has never looked more relaxed or at ease with his situation. Everyone else may be getting over-excited about his prospects – and he will have the usual pre-match nerves as he steps on to the court – but Murray is calmness personified.
As he has grown older, he has come to appreciate the All England Club more and now he feels completely at home there. He often goes to sit on the Centre Court when the place is empty and, sitting in the silence, he can reminisce about matches past. But this year, his reverie was blighted somewhat when his eye fell on the scoreboards.
“I just went out on to the court to have a look,” he said. “And they had the women’s final result from last year and the men’s final result from last year up on the scoreboard. So that wasn’t exactly the best memory!
“But I spend a lot more time there than I used to and I just feel more comfortable there because of that. I know a lot of the people who work there, all the locker room attendants, a lot of the members and the people that run the club. I see them regularly. So it’s just nice to go back there and see all those people and just feel more comfortable.”
Murray is also more comfortable with his place in the pecking order. Now ranked the second best player in the world behind Novak Djokovic, he finally feels like a full member of the Gang of Four at the top of the rankings. Before he won in New York, he was still very much the associate member, the man on the waiting list hoping to be accepted as one of the elite of the elite.
“I think over the last couple of years, it was kind of talked about as a Big Four,” Murray explained. “Before then, but until I started to win more of the major events and get right to the end of the slams, for a while it was tough to maybe feel that I was a part of that. But a lot of people you see on the streets, people passing by, a lot of people talk about it just now. I think tennis is in a really, really good place just now and I’m glad to be a part of that.”
And just a year ago, he would not have felt quite as comfortable in his own skin as he does now. Back then, there were still the doubts – did he have what it took to win a grand slam? Now that those doubts have been dispelled, it is just a case of seeing whether he can win a grand slam here and now. Even in his day-to-day life, the business of fame and celebrity sits a little easier with him. He is as private as ever and he would much rather be out of the spotlight, but when the public want to stop for a chat or ask him to pose for a photo, he is perfectly at ease.
“When I am around tennis tournaments, you kind of expect to take pictures and autographs and all of those sorts of things,” he said, “but I don’t know if you ever get used to taking pictures in the street or at dinner or anything like that. I don’t know that that’s something you ever get used to. But I probably feel a bit more comfortable in myself. When I lost in slam finals and stuff, I didn’t think loads about myself, ‘oh, I’m doing just great, getting to a slam final or a semi-final’. Until I won one, I didn’t feel that comfortable about what I’d achieved or anything like that so I probably feel a bit better about myself in public than I did a year ago.”
Fame has its advantages, too. Thanks to his public profile, Murray was able to attract the likes of Jonathan Ross, Jimmy Carr, Michael McIntyre and Boris Johnson to Queen’s Club in order to make fools of themselves for charity. The Rally against Cancer raised well over £200,000 for the Royal Marsden Hospital charity and allowed Ross Hutchins, Murray’s best pal, to give something back to the medical centre that has been treating him for cancer for the past six months.
Hutchins’s illness affected Murray deeply. There they were, two friends, two young men seemingly in their prime and then, out of the blue, Hutchins was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Suddenly everyone’s perspective on life changed.
“Tennis means obviously a lot to me but at the end of the day my tennis career is going to be, I hope seven, eight years more, but there’s a lot more to your life than just playing tennis,” Murray said. “Me and Ross message each other almost every day of the year really, anyway, so if I’d had a bad day and he’s messaged me saying ‘how are you doing?’, you think twice before you reply. Because I haven’t actually had a bad day. It’s not been that bad. Yes, I didn’t practise particularly well, I didn’t play particularly well in my match. But I’m healthy, I feel good and you’ve got someone who you’re very close to, a young guy, and you wouldn’t expect anything like that to happen to him. He was obviously going through a rough time. He dealt with it really, really well the first few months and I think the last couple of months, especially, they got pretty hard, so when you’d message him, or he would message you, asking how you’re doing, you’d definitely think twice about how you actually are feeling.”
As an added bonus to that Sunday hit-and-giggle extravaganza after Murray had won the Queen’s club final, the Scot managed to welt a full-blooded forehand right at his coach, Ivan Lendl. Murray danced around the court with delight – hitting opponents was always one of Lendl’s trademarks – and, since then, he has watched the replay over and over.
“He was angry, as well,” Murray said with a grin. “His neck went really red. When I watched it over, I think inside he was really angry. He dealt with it really well but he wasn’t happy.”
Lendl may wait until Wimbledon is over before he exacts his revenge but there will be payback. Until then, Murray has more pressing matters to deal with. He is fit. As the Queen’s Club champion, he is clearly in good form and a real contender for the title.
“I want to win Wimbledon,” he said simply, “but you’ve got to remember: there are so many great players around just now. Sometimes you have to think: ‘Look, this isn’t going to happen’. And learn that, OK, maybe you’re going to have to deal with that. And, once you kind of get over that, that will help you play better. And I’ve thought about that. I thought about that before the US Open last year, after Wimbledon last year, that maybe I won’t ever win a grand slam. Maybe I’ll never win Wimbledon – but it won’t be through lack of trying. I’ll try my best to do that. But I want to win another grand slam. That’s the next goal.”
Addicted to winning, the clean-living Murray will be looking for his next fix a week on Sunday.