Murray hunting glory with fresh perspective
At 1.0 today, defending champion Roger Federer will walk on to Centre Court and Wimbledon will be open for business.
While half a million lucky ticketholders soak up the hushed gravitas of the All England Club, TV viewers can spend the next fortnight feasting on the BBC's annual obsessions: slow-motion shots of Rafael Nadal's biceps, Maria Sharapova's legs and Pippa Middleton's reactions.
So what is different in 2013? For the first time in living memory, Britain has more than a hopeful shot at a homegrown male champion.
This is not to denigrate the previous achievements of Andy Murray and Tim Henman, who have clocked up seven semi-finals and a runners-up finish between them. But to expect one of them to land their first Grand Slam there, with all the attendant pressure that Wimbledon brings, was always optimistic.
This year, at last, the British have a proven champion to cheer for. In the past, Murray's slouching, mulish body language used to earn him repeated comparison's to the Harry Enfield character Kevin the teenager. But after his twin triumphs at last year's Olympics and the US Open, he returns looking more like Henry Cavill, the sculpted English actor who dons Lycra in the new Superman movie.
Physically, Murray is stronger for his bold decision to skip the French Open. Psychologically, he has left that section of purgatory devoted to sportsmen who never won a Major. Privately, he has grown up enormously over the past year.
He had little choice, for one of his closest friends – the leading British doubles player Ross Hutchins – was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma over the Christmas period.
In a strange sort of way, Murray was inspired by this grim news. First he dedicated his first title of the year – the Brisbane International in January – to the man he knows as 'Percher'.
Then he played a lead role in conceiving and organising the Rally Against Cancer – a celebrity-studded exhibition at Queen's Club that has already raised around £250,000 for the Royal Marsden cancer hospital.
After six months of chemotherapy, Hutchins has lost some of his hair and a fair bit of weight, but he remains hugely energetic and active, having worked as a commentator over the past month for Eurosport. He is optimistic that by September he will officially be in remission.
And as far as Murray is concerned, that result would trump anything that might happen at Wimbledon over the next fortnight.
"Tennis obviously means a lot to me," Murray said. "But at the end of the day my career is going to last another seven, eight years, and there's a lot more to your life. I hope that Ross gets the all-clear, and I'm really confident that he will."
A broad perspective on life is not always beneficial for an athlete. Spend too much time reminding yourself of the essential triviality of ball-games, and you might forget to practise. But Murray is unlikely to go soft; he hates losing too much.
His childhood nickname was 'Bamm-Bamm', after the younger brother in 'The Flintstones'. "I used to get so angry," he said. "I would be bashing things around." In the BBC documentary 'The Man Behind The Racket', Murray's father, Will, told a story about their first purchase of a lottery ticket together.
"Andy wanted to pick the numbers and I told him, 'No I'll do it'. He was sat in front of the TV with the ticket in his hand, and when they called out the numbers he went crazy. 'You're rubbish at picking the numbers, Dad! You're not doing this again!'"
Federer tipped Murray yesterday as the most natural grass-court player out of his three main rivals.
The only concern is that the draw – which placed a relieved Novak Djokovic on his own in the bottom half – has made the prospect a little harder.
While Murray managed to beat two of the so-called 'big four' in back-to-back matches at last year's Olympics, only one of them was played over the best of five sets.
Asked last week about his position in this golden generation, Murray replied: "It was tough to feel I was part of that until I won a Slam. I've played a couple of great matches in the past two years so it's nice to be spoken of with those guys."
After the painful dose of reality supplied by Hutchins's ordeal, Murray now understands that trophies are a happy by-product of sporting talent, rather than the be-all and end-all of life. Perhaps that knowledge will play a useful role in the days to come. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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