SUCCESS always comes at a price. Last summer, just as Andy Murray reached almost every goal he had ever set himself, he set himself up as a target for every man ranked below him.
Before Murray won Olympic gold and then the US Open, he was just the world No 4 – a very good player but not in the same league as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
But, when he did win those two huge titles, he not only took a great weight off his own shoulders, he lifted any weight of expectation from those playing against him.
At the BNP Paribas Open in California, Murray is beginning to realise that can be a bit of a problem. First it was Evgeny Donskoy who came out leathering the ball for all he was worth and, on Tuesday night, it was Lu Yen-Hsun.
Both men were dispatched – Lu was dealt with 6-3, 6-2 – but it does not make life any easier.
“Some guys come out swinging and try to make an impression early in the match,” Murray said. “When it goes in it’s obviously tough to play against, you need to make sure you slow yourself down and play the percentages because, over the course of the match, the shots that were going in are going to start missing. Sometimes guys do cause big upsets but you can’t play low percentage tennis and win over the course of a three or five-set match.
“I remember what it was like when I was in their position. There’s no pressure. I enjoyed playing against the top guys. When I played Roger the first few times and when I played Rafa at the Australian Open, you are just going for your shots. You’re not holding back when it’s a big point, you’re not thinking, oh, what if I miss this. It’s ‘I’m just going to go for it and see because there’s no expectation there’. That obviously changes as you move up the rankings.”
Murray was due to face the same sort of challenge in the early hours of this morning as he faced Carlos Berlocq, the world No 85, for a place in the quarter-finals.
If he were to win the title this week, Murray would move up to No 2 in the rankings, overtaking Federer. But, if he fails, it is no great disaster. After the Indian Wells event is over, Federer is taking a seven-week break and will not be seen again until the Madrid Masters, which gives Murray plenty of time to make his move and usurp the Swiss.
Since his remarkable 2012 summer, Murray is more relaxed on the tour. Defeats still hurt but there is no longer the feeling that every loss represents an opportunity missed. And when he hears his achievements read out by the on-court announcer, it gives him an extra spring in his step. After waiting so long to win that gold medal and that first grand slam, he is enjoying the warm afterglow of success for as long as he can.
“You can be going through your day and then it’s something that you suddenly think of and it’s a great memory for me,” he said. “They were two of the best days of my career so, obviously, sometimes when I think about them, it’s a nice feeling.
“It’s something that, when you’re on the court, it can help you. It’s important to remind yourself that you have done that, because it can make you play a little bit better or, when you’re struggling, feel a little bit better about yourself.
“It definitely helps. When you get announced to the crowd, it’s always been four Grand Slam finals or three times losing the final of Grand Slams or whatever it was.
“I had about five years of that. It’s something I thought about almost every single day of my life for years, having not won one. So now it’s nice when I think about it that I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Now Murray’s only concern are the carefree hopefuls ranked below him who are desperate for their 15 minutes of fame. It is not that great a price to pay for his success.