It ISN’T in his make-up, we know. But Andy Murray will today seek to deal with Robin Haase without the fuss and hysteria that accompanied their last meeting, described by John McEnroe as among the “weirdest” tennis matches he had ever seen.
While Murray eventually triumphed in this clash at the US Open last year, he succumbed to worrying cramps while winning in four sets. The set he did lose was lost 6-1, when the Scot’s serve was broken three times and he called for ice to be brought on to help cool him down and soothe his aching limbs.
According to Murray, it was the worst he’d ever felt after an hour and a half of tennis, which explained a temporary capitulation that stretched to the fourth set, when he was a break down on two occasions.
Cramp issues possibly brought on by dehydration in the uncomfortable heat of New York were the chief culprits for Murray’s struggles. The issue of playing in humid conditions has returned to the fore this week, due to the rising heat levels in SW19. Remarkably, yesterday was the hottest day ever recorded at Wimbledon.
It was hotter even than when Murray locked horns with Haase on that September’s day last year in New York, when the temperature climbed to 31C. The Met Office recorded a temperature of 35.7 near Wimbledon yesterday.
Coincidentally, it was his last meeting with Haase that taught Murray how to survive in such extreme conditions. The forecast is for a cooler day today, with the possibility of rain. But Murray, whose match with Haase has been scheduled for a 1pm start on Court No 1, is now prepared for any eventuality. He has learned that he has to be.
I know him fairly well. He makes it difficult… he goes for it, which makes things toughAndy Murray
“I came through in four sets [against Haase] but could have gone out of the tournament, not necessarily through me being the worse player but because I missed something in my preparation and became very dehydrated,” said Murray yesterday. “You have a match like that and it’s a bit of an eye-opener.”
Murray sought to underline it was the conditions combined with an aversion to the Louis Armstrong stadium that were at the heart of his problems in September 2014, rather than any exceptional qualities on Haase’s part. Of course, it isn’t sensible to let slip that he is in any way spooked by his opponent on the eve of their clash, and there is no reason why Murray should be.
Although armed with a robust forehand, the 28-year-old Haase – he was born a month before Murray – cannot claim to hold an Indian sign over the Scot. In their four previous meetings to date, Haase has won only once – in their first clash seven years ago, in Rotterdam.
“Maybe it was a long time ago, but, still, I beat him,” stressed Haase yesterday, as he sought to accentuate the positives. He knows the size of challenge that he is faced with. But he has to believe he can pull off a shock.
“Andy is one of the best players in the world,” he added. “ To play him anywhere is difficult, but then in his home tournament on grass, it’s gonna be even more difficult. I will try to find a weakness. I have proved I can beat him once.”
Their clash in New York, when Haase also suffered from injury to the extent a trainer was called, was, according to Murray, a baffling encounter. McEnroe, who was describing the action for television, rated it as being “in the top ten weirdest matches” he had ever watched as both players suffered meltdowns. Murray shook his head as he recalled the afternoon yesterday.
“He [Haase] had had a good run on some of those clay-court events after Wimbledon and I have always struggled on that court. I have never played that well on [the Louis] Armstrong [court],” he said.
“He is someone that I grew up with, on juniors and stuff like that, so I know him fairly well. He makes it difficult. He likes playing on the big courts as well. He goes for it, which makes things tough. That first time I played him in New York was very tough, but the last time I don’t think it had anything to do with the opponent. Whoever I had played that day it would have been pretty ugly for me.”
Murray spent yesterday morning hitting with James Ward, his British colleague as part of his practice session. He then retreated out of sight and into the shade, perhaps to play snooker – a pastime suited to days like yesterday since those who play it usually do so in the gloomy indoors. Wimbledon is usually associated with chalk on the tramlines rather than on the end of a cue.
But Murray revealed yesterday that he has turned to playing snooker to take his mind off the high-pressure business of repeating his Wimbledon heroics of 2013. He grew up playing snooker in Stirlingshire, seeing it as the perfect way to unwind after intense bouts of tennis practice.
The tennis has become more serious now, which means snooker’s restorative powers are especially appreciated by Murray, who makes use of the tables in the players’ lounge at the All England Club.
“When I used to practise at Bridge of Allan sports’ club we had a couple of snooker tables there and I actually used to play there quite a lot,” he said. “When I injured my knee, me and Leon [Smith] would go there almost every single day and play snooker with each other, because I couldn’t do anything else. It is just a fun thing to do, although I don’t think it really helps with my tennis.”
It does help take his mind off the building level of expectation. He plays doubles with Davis Cup team-mate and best man Ross Hutchins and the Delgado brothers, Jamie and Johnny. They are normally competitive affairs, as you’d expect whenever four competitive sportsmen get together. Not that they are as proficient at snooker as they are tennis. “My biggest break is about 20,” smiled Murray.
“But we get pumped to play,” he added. “None of us are any good, but it is a fun way to spend time with friends. Although you are playing a game, it is a fun way to chat. If you go and play football, you are not exactly chatting the whole way through the game. Also, it is not as physically demanding either.”
Walking around a table potting balls now and again is certainly not as taxing as carrying the hopes of a nation in these testing dogs days at Wimbledon. However he manages to find a way past Haase this afternoon, Murray simply has to ensure he remains in the frame come sun-down.