Tuesday 23 July 2019

Relaxed Murray has rediscovered passion for game

Chilled: Andy Murray is looking forward to return to court in doubles event at Queen's. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire
Chilled: Andy Murray is looking forward to return to court in doubles event at Queen's. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire

Simon Briggs

How has Andy Murray spent his time in the build-up to his return to the court in the doubles at Queen's Club this week? By entering golf tournaments, he revealed yesterday, as well as by solving puzzles in a variety of "escape rooms" across London.

This is the new-look Murray. Joking with reporters ahead of the Fever-Tree Championships starting today, he was relaxed and genial, even wondering aloud if he could win a Wimbledon doubles title.

It is all in contrast to the ultra-professional athlete who used to turn up here with his game face on, having hit thousands of balls over the previous month and shut out the rest of human experience.

After Murray's traumatic start to the year - when chronic hip pain forced him to consider retirement - a change of attitude was bound to follow.

Following the operation in which a metal socket was grafted to the top of his femur - a procedure he called "brilliant, completely life-changing" yesterday - he is about to arrive at Queen's with no great expectations of himself. These days, his motivation is less about titles than about reconnecting with his former youthful enthusiasm.

"I'm sure some of you guys enjoy getting out on the court and hitting tennis balls," said Murray, who will probably enter the tournament on Wednesday. "I'm exactly the same.

"I hit some balls with some kids a few weeks ago and it makes you remember that is how you started. You do it because it is fun and you love it and it becomes a passion.

"Yes, everyone wants to do well in their job but ultimately all you can do is do your best. And my best now might not be what it was when I was 25."

Along with his doubles partner, 37-year-old Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, Murray sneaked into the draw by using his protected ranking of No 2 in the world. He did not want to take a wild card, and thus restrict opportunities to other Britons, especially at a time when they are blessed with seven men in the doubles top 50.

As a result, Dan Evans and Ken Skupski were able to take up the extra space, while Murray and Lopez landed a difficult opening-round encounter with Colombian top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

Asked yesterday if he wanted to win the Wimbledon doubles title, Murray replied: "I think it's possible... but I don't mind if I don't. It would be unlikely, because I've not played many matches.

"My goal is still to get back to playing singles. Six to eight weeks ago I was chatting to my team about the best way to do that and we felt that doubles would be a good option to test myself out and see how I feel. It's a good thing to try rather than just going back into a tour-level (singles) match, which is tough."

Not everything has changed. Just as Rafael Nadal is rarely seen in the players lounge without a board game on the go, so Murray still feels obliged to feed his addiction to competition. Even if it meant undergoing a "humbling experience" at the weekend on the West Course at Wentworth.

"I played the golf club championships (at Wentworth) with my brother yesterday, which went horribly," said Murray. "Me and Jamie scored 101 each. It all got away from me quickly.

"I hadn't shanked a ball for the last 12 or 13 rounds I had played and I had three on the first hole. I was so nervous."

Some might find the idea of Murray failing to control his nerves surprising. This is, after all, the man who fought off Novak Djokovic - arguably the most ruthless tennis competitor in history - in agonising finishes to win both Wimbledon and the US Open. But it turns out Murray's bulletproof psychology extends only to his chosen sport.

So what about the escape rooms?

"You are locked in a room and you have 60 minutes to get out," said the man used to performing Houdini-like feats on court.

"And there are lots of different clues and puzzles to solve and padlocks and things. You have to work stuff out.

"There are thousands of them in London. There is probably one a couple of minutes from here. Some of you guys should go and do it."

At this point, someone suggested that, by packing his media interrogators off to an escape room, Murray might avoid ever having to deal with them again.

The response - "I'd be fine with that" - was accompanied by a signature grin.

Telegraph.co.uk

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