Wimbledon 2013: Confident Murray ready to embrace the pressure

Wimbledon 2013: The burden of hope once again is on Andy Murray - but this time he looks ready to carry those expectations

andy murray
Andy Murray is the second seed at this year's Wimbledon

Andy Murray was just 18 when he first played in the men’s main draw at his home Grand Slam. That was in 2005 and even back then he reached all the way to the third round.

Now he is playing in this eighth Championships—he missed 2007—and has improved step by step to what many believe could see him become the first British man to claim the title since Fred Perry in 1936.

By 2008, he was a quarter-finalist, then made three consecutive semis before coming within touching distance of that golden trophy last year.

He wept, but he finally believed, and went on a month later to beat the same foe, Roger Federer, on the same court to claim Olympic gold. Another six weeks on, and he was a Grand Slam champion at the US Open. The shackles, it seemed, were off.

Murray went on to reach the finals of the Australian Open and then won the Miami Masters—and with it the No2 ranking that he still holds.

And despite a back injury taking him out of the Rome Masters and the French Open, he hit the grass with another win at Queen’s, taking his grass-court streak to 13 matches. That makes him the third most successful active player on grass in the men’s draw after Federer and Lleyton Hewitt—and he is giving them at least five years on the pro tour.

Naturally, back on grass, and with 2012 memories still fresh in British minds, the burden of hope once again descends on Murray’s shoulders, but this time around, he looks and sounds in better shape to carry those expectations than ever before.

“The mindset is still similar in that I come in wanting to try and win the event. I’ve prepared as best as I could. I think in some ways, I feel that I’m putting less pressure on myself. But this tournament obviously means a lot to me. That was pretty obvious after the final last year. I just think, because of what’s happened since then that, if I can manage to get myself into the latter stages of the tournament, I’d be better equipped to deal with the pressures that go with that.”

Something else has changed since last year, too. There is now a palpable affection—or very close to it—for a man who has not found the limelight and demands of the media easy to handle. His younger on-court body language was often self-condemnatory, sometimes negative, but alongside his growing confidence—or perhaps because of it—his demeanour has changed.

Less often does he get down on himself, and that can also in part be attributed to the positive impact of coach Ivan Lendl, who like Murray does not suffer fools gladly.

And if the Briton’s tears at both losing and winning last summer did not win over the home crowd, there is no doubt that the documentary aired on the BBC the day before he opened his 2013 Wimbledon campaign did.

It has been near impossible to find anything but praise and compassion for the emotional man who opened up to fellow Grand Slam champion, Sue Barker.

From the impact on him of the Dunblane tragedy, to the comments of people as diverse as close friend Ross Hutchins and Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey, to his unswerving dedication and passion to his sport, Murray revealed himself to be a warm, generous and witty man.

The support then, every time he walks onto Wimbledon’s courts, will no doubt be greater than ever before, but Murray draws strength from that.

“I think the Wimbledon final last year was important for me. The final was really tough, but I went for it and lost the match kind of on my terms. I didn’t come off the court thinking, What if? I got back on the practice court five, six days later and I felt great. A combination of that final and the way I played in it, and also having the Olympics to look forward to, I think that was the period that changed me, changed my mindset a bit.

“When I played here as a senior for the first time, I actually almost wasn’t nervous: I was so excited to really play here. There was no pressure. There was no expectation at all. You’re just playing in a competition that you’d always wanted to since you were a kid. But obviously that changes. There’s a lot more pressure and a lot more expectation, a lot more nerves.

“But I like being nervous before a match. I get very nervous before matches here, but I often feel like that helps me play my best tennis. It maybe helps me concentrate better. I just feel like it makes me focus my mind a bit better.”

Already this week, Murray has beaten Benjamin Becker, in short order for the loss of just nine games, to become the most successful British man in Grand Slam history: His 107th match-win took him one ahead of Fred Perry—perhaps an omen for the proudly Scottish but also solidly British man.

He steps onto a different court for his second match against the 75-ranked Yen-Hsun Lu who, by coincidence, beat Murray in their first meeting at the Beijing Olympics. However, plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then, not least revenge in their second meeting, this March, in Indian Wells.

Lu has enjoyed some success on grass before, reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2010 after beating Andy Roddick, and he broke the top 50 in the same year.

He made the second round this year by beating Briton James Ward in four long, tough sets, but Lu sounded far from confident about beating his next Briton: “If you’re asking me right now do I expect to beat him, I say not.”

No-one else expects an upset, either. Just as he has done in all seven previous visits here, Murray expects to advance to the third round—and this time, perhaps, all the way to the ultimate prize.

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