Tennis: Andy Murray says he will cope better with Wimbledon pressure
Published 19/06/2011 | 05:00
After winning the tournament at Queen's, along the way playing some of the most effective tennis of his career, destroying his one-time Wimbledon conqueror Andy Roddick in the semi-final, it was unexpected to find Andy Murray critical of his form.
"I used to play a lot, but I got fed up with the way I play," he explained.
"Everyone's got a strength, Roddick's is like 'powerful serve' and Rafa [Nadal]'s is 'huge forehand'. And mine is like 'slice master'. I wasn't happy with that. Not happy at all." Though anyone who has backed him to become the first British man in 75 years to win the All England Club's singles event this year need not yet tear up their betting slip: it turned out Murray was referring to his form in tennis games on his PlayStation.
"When I was growing up I'd play all the time, as other people," he admitted. "Now I'm in some [of the games], so that's quite cool. Though I'm not that good. Actually I always play as Roddick. I worked out how to get aces on every point."
Self-deprecating, humorous, relaxed: in many ways it is not the Andy Murray of old approaching Wimbledon this year. As was demonstrated by his controlled, disciplined, at times even smiley performance at Queen's, Murray is in a new frame of mind. He is tackling his game in a manner which gainsays the old image of snarl and fury. As everybody from John McEnroe to his mum has long told him: that sort of attitude was largely counter productive.
"I think anger and frustration is not a good thing," he admitted. "If you get pumped up every time you play a good shot, and the flip side get angry and disappointed when you play a bad one, it takes its toll. Over four or five sets, especially. Then over a tournament, a Grand Slam, not good.
"It's something I've needed to work on. It's something I've spoken about with a lot of the guys I work with. But a lot of it is down to me becoming more responsible for everything I do in terms of my diet, the way that I train, things I work on.
"Sometimes I used to feel others didn't know what I was doing and the frustration bubbled up on court. Now I feel I've got a better way, initiating how I'm going to play and what I'm going to do."
It is a relaxed manner that has spread into his media duties. Previously renowned as a tetchy, prickly character, he did his best to disguise the dry sense of humour those close to him insisted was always there. Now, as demonstrated by his jokey interview with Sue Barker on court after his Queen's win, he is happy to show what he believes is his true self. Because of a few things that happened in the past I was uptight going into press conferences, I was on guard doing interviews," he said.
"It probably wasn't great for me, or great for the people interviewing me. Now I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more grown up, less self-conscious than I was beforehand. I'm not worried what I'm asked."
He puts his new mindset down to advice he has taken from a number of sources, from David Haye ("some of the things he says, blimey") to a master of media manipulation.
"I spoke to Jose Mourinho and he said: 'look, the interest is always going to be there, you can't avoid it, so enjoy it, get on with it, have fun with it'. Which is what I've tried to do." And being more relaxed off court, he says, has helped him on it.
Mind, he will need all the help he can get this coming fortnight. This is the time of year when his angular shoulders are burdened with undue, unasked for and entirely unreasonable expectation. Charged not only with carrying a nation's hopes, but with a responsibility to kick-start a revival in his sport, as the only realistic local hope what he does at Wimbledon carries a significance way beyond that borne by any other contender. It makes you wonder if he could ever enjoy his time there.
"The build-up is quite long," he said, with a measure of under-statement.
"But I'll deal with things better this year than I have in the past because I know what to do. Once it starts I do enjoy it. The thing that energises me is having the chance to win it. When I first started out I didn't think I could, I was just taking the chance to play there. Now I have the thought I can win it. That gives me a big boost." Confidence, relaxation, form: everything seems to being going for Murray.
There is just one drawback. He is playing at a time when, no matter how good his own performance, there are always going to be two players ahead of him.
His Wimbledon career trajectory demonstrates his problem. Every year he did better than the previous year. Until he reached the semi-final, when he stalled, as if confronted by a glass ceiling with the names Nadal and Federer engraved on it. Does their sustained excellence ever make him wish he could have entered the gates of the All England Club in another era?
"Every era has great players," he said. "Right now we have the two best ever. But it's fun. I've played against Roger [Federer] many times and I've beaten him seven times. This is the best player ever. For me that's excellent. I like competing against them. Because of how good they are it has improved me as a player, given me the desire to reach for another level. I think I'll get there, but it's taking a bit longer because those guys are unbelievable."
And if he gets there this year, if the finest British player in 60 years finally removes the monkey from the back of British tennis, one thing is for sure: they'll have to re-programme those PlayStation games. Because it will take rather more than an aptitude with the slice to overcome the obstacles in his way. Telegraph
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