Wimbledon: Mature Andy Murray focuses on controlling his emotions
The scrawny teenager who fell in love with grand slam tennis at the US Open, who drew energy from the razzmatazz and the gaudy glitz of New York, is now just a distant memory. These days, Murray is more at home in the sedate and stately surroundings of the All England Club, a haven of peace and tranquillity in his hectic life.
For the first time in his career, Murray has been a regular in SW19 over the past few months. Dropping in for training and practice, he has taken time to familiarise himself with every inch of the grounds, to remember what has been and what might just be waiting for him on the sport’s most famous stage.
“When you sit down, you think about all the matches you played, not just one. Seems like a long time ago since the first time,” he said, sounding very grown-up indeed. “I have spent a bit more time there in the last year than I normally would have. There are good facilities, it’s very quiet. Sometimes I want to get out of the way and not be bothered, just do my own thing.
“I have sat on Centre Court with no-one there and thought a bit about the court, the matches I have played there. If I had done that five or six years ago I would not really have known what I was looking at, it was just another court but when you have played so many matches and I have a lot of memories from that court. It means a lot to me.”
Do not be fooled by the contemplative tone, though. Murray is not yet ready to collect his pension. Although he is playing in possibly the greatest era in men’s tennis, he still believes his time will come. By the time they were 25, Roger Federer already had eight grand slam titles, Rafael Nadal was on the cusp of winning his 10th major trophy while Novak Djokovic, a week younger than Murray, already has five major titles. But given that the top three have, between them, won 28 of the last 30 grand slams – only Marat Safin in 2005 and Juan Martin Del Potro managed to gatecrash the winners’ enclosure – Murray’s lack of silverware can hardly be deemed a failure.
“I think tennis has changed significantly since I came on the tour,” he said. “The average age of the top 100 has got much higher, it’s more physical and tough. It’s taking guys a lot longer to break through and guys are going to be peaking later in their career, as we’ve seen with guys like Tsonga, Berdych, Ferrer. These guys are playing much better tennis the older they get because physically they are stronger.”
Away from the courts, it seems easy to be calm and philosophical, but there are still times, in the heat of battle, when Murray’s frustrations boil over. At this time of year, the BBC are at their Reithian best (things have never been the same since the newsreaders stopped wearing black tie) and are on red alert for fear that the Scot might utter an ungodly epithet or two.
Under the guidance of Ivan Lendl, his coach of the past six months, Murray has been trying to control his emotions and to keep calm and focused for every point of every match. There is no magic trick that can help him, it is just a matter of mind over heart, reason over passion. And it ain’t easy, even for the best in the business.
“There are times in matches in the past, in smaller events and slams, where I would have said something negative or behaved in a way that probably didn’t help me,” Murray admitted. “But I’ve watched Novak in matches, yelling and going mental at his box, breaking rackets and whatever. Sometimes he can go on a really bad streak. In the final event, last year, he almost tanked the third set, but he came back and won. For me, ideally I’d not like to have any moments in matches where I was negative, and it’s something that I’ve tried to improve on, which I think I have over a five, six-year period. But it’s part of my personality to be emotional.
“Also, if I went out on the court and said absolutely nothing, I know I would come off and people would say: ‘Andy, what was wrong with you today? You seemed very flat on the court. You weren’t expressing yourself.’ For me, if I was to do certain things on the court psychologically, you can also forget what you’re trying to do tactically and how you’re trying to play the next point. Those things work differently for everybody.”
For the moment, at least, Murray is cool, calm and collected. Losing in the opening round at Queen’s Club was not an ideal start to his grass court preparations, but it was not the end of the world. Since then, he has worked hard, practised well and, he thinks, timed his run-up to his opening match against Nikolay Davydenko on Tuesday perfectly.
“Right now I feel fairly relaxed because practice has been going well,” he said. “A lot of times before a major event, if practice has been bad you’ll be quite edgy and thinking: ‘I need to get on the practice court, what can I do to make sure I’ll be ready for the start of the event?’ After Queen’s, I was obviously a bit down. I wanted to play more matches there but then, in the last few days, I’ve played really well with Kevin Anderson and Hewitt. I feel good.”
And if, as the Rudyard Kipling poem that adorns the clubhouse in SW19 says, Murray can keep his head while all about him are losing theirs, then just maybe he might have many more memories to recall the next time he sits alone on Centre Court.