New article on Andy from Smash Tennis magazine:
WILL ANDY MURRAY, THE 18-YEAR-OLD SCOT WITH A TEMPER AND ’TUDE, BE ABLE TO HANDLE THE PRESSURES OF PLAYING FOR CHAMPION-STARVED GREAT BRITAIN? NO WORRIES: THIS KID IS READY FOR A FIGHT.
Ask Andy Murray about the reaction to his success in England and this is what you'll get: “In the story you have to say ‘Scotland.’ I don’t particularly like England or the English,” he jokes.v
If Andy Murray were an American or maybe a Spaniard, he would be allowed to be what he is: the best 18-year-old tennis player in the world, a young gun with a nice game, a good head, and a solid chance to be a top pro. But in Great Britain, home of the world’s most important tennis tournament, he’s much more than that. He’s the Great White Hope, a slightly scruffy heir apparent to the throne once occupied by Fred Perry. (Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is. He played in the 1930s.)
Murray, who could pass for Hayden Christensen’s skinny little brother, started last year ranked No. 514 and finished it at No. 65. In March, at 17, he became the youngest-ever member of a winning British Davis Cup team. During the season, he scored wins over Taylor Dent, Robby Ginepri, and Paradorn Srichaphan. He played Roger Federer close—6-3, 7-5—in the Bangkok final, in October.
The reason why these promising early results loom so large is that British tennis has long been the story of style over substance. Virginia Wade, who played in the 1970s, once said in so many words that she’d rather play beautiful tennis than win. On the men’s side, John Lloyd was best known for his brief marriage to Chris Evert. Tim Henman’s game, for all its grace and elegance, lacks the explosiveness that it takes to win a Grand Slam title (so far), while Canadian-born Greg Rusedski has nothing but explosiveness.
Here’s the reality check: Fred Perry, who won three Wimbledons and achieved a career Grand Slam between 1933 and 1936, was the last British man to win a major. So pardon Great Britain’s tennis fans if they’re starved for consummation.
Knowing that Rusedski and Henman have their best tennis behind them, Great Britain, and especially its press, have heaped a huge burden of expectation upon Murray. His Wimbledon debut last year was solid, but hardly McEnroe ’77. Yet that didn’t stop the needy British tennis world from overreacting. After Murray won two rounds and was the last Brit standing, Henman Hill was renamed Murray Field. When Murray beat Henman in Basel, Switzerland, last fall, it was a huge changing-of-the-guard story.
“British tennis has had only Tim and Greg for the last 10 years, so I’ve prepared myself for it,” Murray says wearily. “I just have to try and get used to it because [the press] is going to be around for the next 10, 12 years of my life.”
The spotlight will be especially bright when he plays Wimbledon. Good thing Murray prefers the U.S. Open. “Wimbledon’s not my favorite tournament,” he blasphemes. “I don’t particularly like some of the rules there, and the atmosphere’s not as good as what it is at the U.S. Open. There’s much more noise there. Night matches. Playing under the lights. Rock music on the changeovers.”
Murray’s on-court behavior is more suited to Zoo York, too. “I throw my racquet sometimes and lose my temper a little bit,” he says. “But I think that shows that you care about what you’re doing.”
Murray’s love of the Open shows that while he is part of the British tennis world, he’s not really in it. Indeed, if English tennis has been a passion play, waiting for the next Wimbledon champion, then Scottish tennis before Murray has been nothing more than a punch line. The perception of Scottish tennis is best summed up in a Monty Python sketch in which John Cleese jokes, “Scots folk dinna know how to play the tennis to save their lives.” Then a kilt-wearing Scot named Angus Podgorny wins Wimbledon only after two spectators devour his opponent, a blancmange. Yes, if not for a couple of ravenous fans, the pride of Scottish tennis would have been defeated by a giant jellylike dessert.
Of course, Murray’s heritage will remain a double-edged sword. “He’ll only be Scottish on the BBC when he loses,” suggested one Scottish weekly.
When Murray began to show promise as a player in his teens, he left Scotland for better weather, tougher competition, and softer courts in Barcelona, Spain, where he still lives. (He says red clay is his best surface.) “I was practicing with guys who were ranked around 200 in the world when I was 15,” he says. “I was losing to them at the start but after about a year I was getting closer and closer and then I started to win against them. It’s good for your confidence.”
Murray showed his backbone when he played Federer in Bangkok. While he came away impressed by the world’s best player, Murray was hardly awed. “It took me five or six games before I settled down and figured out a good game plan to compete with him,” he says. “If you go for winners too early, he can get you running with his forehand. His forehand is the best shot I’ve played against. But the rest of his game I didn’t feel was so far away from mine.”
“Murray has a big repertoire of shots, a lot of qualities,” Federer said after the match. “He’s got to figure out how he wants to use his potential. If he works hard he’ll be a good player. I was impressed by him.”
Murray is a huge boxing fan—last fall he sparred with Olympic silver medalist and countryman Amir Khan—and you can see the fighting spirit in his game. While he’s got a powerful serve and a strapping forehand, it’s his grit that sets him apart. He plays with a grind-it-out mentality beyond his years. Unlike so many young players who fall in love with their strokes, happy to trade two sloppy errors for one flashy winner, Murray cleverly constructs points with topspin and slice and well-timed changes of pace.
The defining moment of his fledgling career took place at last year’s U.S. Open in a long first-round five-setter against Andrei Pavel. At the beginning of the deciding set, Murray took a big swig of Lucozade, an electrolyte drink, and he, well, spewed. It will go down as one of the great gastrointestinal moments in Flushing Meadows history, right beside Pete Sampras losing his lunch against Alex Corretja and James Blake’s technicolor yawn against Lleyton Hewitt.
“I drank too much,” says Murray, who fought through the incident to win the match. “I went to burp and I was just sick. I felt a little embarrassed and I felt a bit bad for the guy I was playing because a bit of the sick went on his bag. We had to wait for about 20 minutes for it to get cleaned up.”
In his next match Murray clawed his way back from two-sets-to-love down before losing against Arnaud Clement, one of the peskiest counter-punchers on tour. But when he came into the pressroom, the inquisition began. British scribes wondered why he wasn’t fitter. Murray answered the questions patiently, but you couldn’t blame him if he secretly seethed. He was 18, had played eight weeks in a row without losing in a first round, was only a few months past his last junior tournament—and he had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the Open’s main draw. Even the fittest pros wilt at the end of back-to-back five setters, yet the British press was holding Murray to a standard that Andre Agassi would be hard pressed to live up to.
But Murray seems to have a sense of the challenges ahead of him, some on the court, and many off it. “Sometimes,” he says, “I like when I get criticized because I want to prove people wrong.” He’s done a pretty good job of it so far.
30-SECOND BIO: ANDY MURRAY
Plays right-handed (two-handed backhand)
• Sponsored by Fred Perry
• Favorite film: The Girl Next Door
• Favorite CD: Encore, Eminem
• Favorite food: Subway
• Prematch ritual: Listening to his iPod
• Also plays soccer, and was once offered a chance to play with the Glasgow Rangers soccer team
“I throw my racquet sometimes and lose my temper a little bit,” Murray says. “But I think that shows that you care about what you’re doing.”