Andy Murray would sacrifice title bid to be present at birth of his child
Andy Murray will not hesitate to jump into a private jet if his wife Kim goes into labour early. Not even if he stands on the verge of reversing a decade of near-misses at the Australian Open.
When you look at Murray’s draw – which came out as favourably as any in his career – you have to say that the person most likely to prevent him from reaching the semi-finals is his unborn baby. But Murray made it very clear pn Saturday where his priorities lie. He would rather return home than abandon Kim to struggle alone. Even if it means leaving the tournament without a final.
“My child is more important to me, and my wife is more important to me, than a tennis match,” Murray said. “I wouldn’t say that I have a private jet on standby, but it is an option. Maybe not the whole way but to get to a connecting flight. As soon as I get the call, I would just go for it, I guess.”
Mrs Murray would normally be with him in Melbourne, as indeed she was last year when her Anglo-Saxon remarks about his semi-final opponent, Tomas Berdych, were picked up by lip‑readers on camera and broadcast to a rather larger audience than she had intended. In her absence, Murray says that his mind is constantly flickering forward to the prospect of becoming a father for the first time.
“It’s very, very exciting,” he told a room full of reporters in Melbourne. “I’m sure everyone that’s had their first child in here would have thought the same thing with just a few weeks to go.”
Yet as soon as he picks up a racket, his focus returns to the matter at hand. And thoughts of family are unlikely to be a distraction when he faces Alexander Zverev – the laconic German who is the youngest man in the top 100 – in his opening match on Tuesday. He is too competitive for that. Many former players believe that this extra dimension to his life could work in Murray’s favour, by bringing a new sense of perspective. There will be joy when the bouncing bundle arrives, of course. But there may a release of tension in those gym-honed shoulders. As soon as silver trophies cease to be the primary purpose of life, it becomes a little easier to swing freely on break-point down.
Despite all the stuff that must be whirling around his head, Murray seemed unusually relaxed on Saturday. Faced with a couple of hours’ worth of multifarious media duties, he met every question with patience and bonhomie, and even started ribbing the liaison officer for trying to hurry things along.
It is possible that he has been buoyed by his draw, in which he landed the lowest possible seed at each stage. (Mathematically, there is a one‑in‑256 chance of this happening.) But his spirits have also been boosted by the return of his first-choice coach Amélie Mauresmo after her own five months of maternity leave. Few coaches would be as well placed to deal with the sensitivities of the next fortnight. “We haven’t discussed parenthood too much yet,” Murray said, “but her boy [Aaron] has been great, he has come to a few dinners and stuff and been really well behaved. It looks easy, I guess, when you see a baby for an hour-and-a-half per day. But she seems to be handling everything very well and it hasn’t affected her.
“The communication with Amélie is very good,” he said. “We are able to talk about practising and the game – and as much as that might sound basic, it’s not always an easy thing to do to open up to your coaches if you’re feeling really bad, or feeling really nervous. With her it is easy and that has helped a lot in the past.”
Murray is hugely grateful to have Mauresmo back, especially as he views the very fact that she has returned to work as a tacit endorsement of his own potential. “It’s clear that she really wants to do the job,” he told the Melbourne Age. “Having just given birth, she wanted to come back and travel and be part of the team. That gives me confidence that she believes in me and thinks that I can achieve the biggest prizes.”
So far in Murray’s remarkable career, the Australian Open remains the one that has got away. After last year’s bizarre play-acting row with Novak Djokovic, he has now reached the final four times without winning the damn thing, which makes him unique in the history of the event. And the bookmakers don’t have any great faith in him changing that statistic, judging by a starting price of 5-1. Djokovic, inevitably, is the odds-on favourite to land a sixth title here.
Can Murray earn himself another crack at the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup this year? He would probably have to get past Stan Wawrinka in the semi-final first. But if he does make it, he will be hoping for Roger Federer to burn up plenty of Djokovic’s energy – mental and physical – before the final.
It was good to hear Murray acknowledge that he has been working on specific anti-Novak tactics during the short break since the Davis Cup final. “That’s always the case in the off-season,” he said, “but this off-season maybe a little bit more.”
His stance contrasts with the apparent insouciance of both Federer and Rafael Nadal, who both insist that they are better off focusing on their own side of the net. But then Murray has suffered more than anyone from Djokovic’s recent elevation to the tennis pantheon. He has won just one of their 11 meetings since the 2013 Wimbledon final.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Dan Evans fought his way through the final stage of qualifying with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 win against Bjorn Fratangelo of the United States. There was a certain irony, however, in the fact that Evans landed a difficult first‑round draw against 18th seed Feliciano Lopez, while Fratangelo came in the back door marked “lucky loser” and found himself up against the world No 214 Stephane Robert.
Evans explained that he has been targeting a place in March’s Davis Cup team to face Japan, which is being staged in his home city of Birmingham. “To play in Davis Cup would be the best thing I could ever do in tennis but you’ve got to win the matches,” he said.