No one was happier to see Andy Murray back on a tennis court, albeit that the glimpse was tantalisingly brief, than his brother, Jamie. The elder of the marvellous Murrays could extend sympathy both as a sibling and a fellow injury victim.
“It was brilliant that he got back playing,” said Jamie, as he picked at the strapping on his right knee. “He didn’t feel strong enough to get out here at Wimbledon and potentially play six or seven matches of five sets which, to be honest, would have been a lot of ask of him at this stage of his comeback.
“But he’s obviously feeling a whole lot better than he did a few months ago and it was cool that he played Queen’s and Eastbourne. Hopefully he can build up over the summer and after the US Open have a better feel of where he’s at.”
Where this Murray is at is SW19, a defending Wimbledon champion in the mixed doubles. He actually wasn’t going to compete in the mixed this year but, having had an offer from former women’s No 1 Victoria Azarenka that he couldn’t refuse, he’s re-energised for the challenge. And as if to confirm this he ripped off the knee support while checking on the latest World Cup football on a TV monitor.
Murray’s plan had been just to play the men’s doubles. “I wasn’t going to do the mixed but then Bruno [Soares, his sidekick in the men’s] texted me and asked did I want to play with Vika. He was the matchmaker. I was like, s***, what a great partner.
“So I called my coach and said, look, I know I we said I’d only play the men’s but, s***, this is Wimbledon and an amazing opportunity again to play with someone great. ‘Okay’, he said, ‘you go for it’.”
The injury looked to have curtailed Murray’s ambition for 2018. “It’s been a year I’ve had this,” he said, pointing to the knee. “For a while even daily life was frustrating because every time I sat down it would ache. Driving, going to the cinema, being sat in the cinema for two hours, I couldn’t do it. If I did drive, like to training, I could only use my left foot which isn’t really recommended!
“At tournaments we’re lucky that they drive us around but I would have to be in the front of the car with the seat all the way back so no one would want to sit behind me. But the knee is getting better. I was worried going on to grass would make it worse but it’s actually been really good and I haven’t had to take so many anti-inflammatories.”
In the men’s doubles Murray and Soares, pictured, have seen the top four seeds all fall. “Some guys have got to win the title, why not us?” he said. And teaming up with Azarenka has been good for the 32-year-old. “For me it’s fun to play with Vika because she’s a champion,” he said after the pair had beaten the Czech duo of Lucie Hradecka and Roman Jebavy in a first-round match which took two days to complete. “Both days I had played men’s doubles already and was feeling a bit battered and bruised, but I love her intensity on the court and she is so positive. You can see how desperate she is to win matches and that’s helped us.”
Murray brings easy-going charm to any pairing as well as his obvious doubles ability. Anyone who saw him win with Martina Hingis last year knows that. Now it falls to the Belarusian, twice winner of the Australian Open, to work with the Dunblane accent and occasional references to the fortunes of Hibernian FC. So far, so good.
Was there a common link between his partners in mixed which have also included Jelena Jankovic? “Well they all got to No 1,” he smiled. A three-time Slam winner in mixed doubles and twice in the men’s, he explained his chemistry with Azarenka: “She tells me what to do and I just go along with it!” Azarenka interjected: “No, we’re mixed doubles soulmates. We found each other!”
Azarenka brings a determination of her own to the partnership. The 28-year-old has just returned to the game following the birth of her son and has gone on record as saying the seeding of top players coming back after childbirth needs to be for everyone, not just Serena Williams. “Right now I need matches,” she said.
“My coach gave me the statistic that over the last three years I’ve only played 50 – some play that in one season. It doesn’t matter what kind of matches they are but I’m having a blast with Jamie, he’s super-fun. We’re playing really serious and we try to play good tennis but it also just feels comfortable and I’m loving my time on court with him.”
Preparing for the duo’s debut, Azarenka had been looking forward to having an English crowd behind her. “Then someone was really, I don’t know, stinky. They said: ‘You do know Jamie’s Scottish?’ I was like: ‘Well, if you’re not supporting him that’s your problem!’”