The story of Andy Murray’s development can be seen through a purple and green lens.
It was as a seven-year-old child that Murray first came to the All England Club, when he was more interested in stalking Andre Agassi at the practice courts than in watching any of the live tennis, but who knew back then that the Las Vegan had been a regular user of crystal meth and hair-pieces? For three days he “camped” behind the wire-fence, and yet he would spend the return journey in the mini-bus back to Scotland wondering why Agassi had not scribbled on his pad. Since Murray the spurned autograph-hunter, we have had all sorts of Murrays here.
There has been Murray the unsuccessful junior at Wimbledon, Murray as Kevin the Teenager in the men’s draw, Murray the pretender, Murray the new member of the Last Eight Club for reaching his first slam quarter-final in 2008, Murray the semi-finalist and Murray the finalist. Perhaps today we will get Murray the Wimbledon champion. All the other Murrays would have contributed to that one.
The four slams are supposed to be on the same level, as important as each other, but Murray knows that patently isn’t true. If Murray ever wins one of the Opens outside London – the Australian, the French or the US – that would be big, but incomparable to a Wimbledon victory for the Scot. He recognises that holding up that golden, pineapple-shaped trophy, becoming Britain’s first home champion since Fred Perry in 1936, would be life-changing, that it would be difficult and “something that I would have to learn to live with”.
No more popping out for sushi, taking the Border-Terrier for a walk, or pushing a trolley around the supermarket car-park near his home in Surrey’s stockbroker-and-footballer belt, without the unbroken attention of the long lenses. Right now, Murray is a tennis player: this afternoon, on Centre Court, he could become an outright celebrity, a future knight of the realm, and an extremely reluctant member of Britain’s Hello-ocracy.
Murray isn’t playing tennis to be famous. Such is his dislike for drawing extra attention to himself that he sold his red Ferrari.
He doesn’t want to be a poseur, a superstar. And yet, none of that matters. Win Wimbledon, and Murray will lose control of some of his life, of his privacy. Only Wimbledon has the power to transform Murray’s world like that.
Murray the Wimbledon finalist has come a long way from when he learned to play tennis by whacking sponge balls and balloons around in the garden and house in Dunblane, a small Scottish cathedral town. He was two years old when he gripped his first tennis racket, a 16-inch Slazenger with a purple metallic frame and multi-coloured strings.
Then Murray moved on to hitting a small ball that was attached to a string on a pole in the backyard. “My mum, my first tennis coach, will tell you that when I started playing tennis she thought I was useless,” Murray has recalled of his inadequacies as a tennis toddler. “Mum used to spend hours throwing balls for me to hit. She says I kept missing whereas my brother Jamie could do it right away. It wasn’t until I was about seven that I started to become noticeably better. I had bad concentration, bad coordination and a temper. It was not a good combination.”
Murray’s competitive nature was apparent from a young age. If a game of Monopoly was not going his way, he would fling the board into the air. And, at the age of five, he told his mother that he wanted to compete in a ‘proper’ match. A couple of years later, he was at Wimbledon, being ignored by Agassi. “He camped out at the practice courts for three days, but Agassi did not stop to sign and Andy still remembers how disappointed he was,” Judy recalled. “That is why Andy still tries to stop for everyone who asks him to sign something.” Around that time, it was becoming clear that Murray wasn’t quite as bad at tennis as had first been imagined.
Murray cannot remember much about the horrific events of March 13, 1996, when Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children at Dunblane Primary School. Murray, then aged eight, was in the school at the time. “The weirdest thing was that we knew the guy,” Murray recalled in his autobiography, Hitting Back. “He had been in my mum’s car. It’s obviously weird to think you had a murderer in your car, sitting next to your mum. To find out he was a murderer was something my brain couldn’t cope with.”
When Murray was 10, his parents, Judy and Willie, separated. Perhaps Murray wouldn’t be the player he is today, and would never have reached this Wimbledon final, if he hadn’t had the sibling rivalry with his brother Jamie, who is just over a year older. On one occasion, as they sat in the back of a minibus on the way back from a junior tournament, Murray “goaded” Jamie about beating him for the first time in competition. Jamie thumped his fist on Andy’s hand with such force that the younger of the brothers ended up with a black and blue fingernail, and he had to visit the doctor the next day to have a tetanus injection. The fingernail has never grown back properly.
If Murray ends up making a champion’s speech on Centre Court, Rafael Nadal should also be on the list of thank-yous, as it was the Majorcan who recommended that the Scot, who had been feeling dissatisfied with his training arrangements, consider leaving Britain to complete his tennis education in Spain. At the age of 15, Murray went to train at the Sanchez-Casal Academy outside Barcelona, with his father giving him this advice before departing for Catalonia: “Don’t take s— from anyone.” You could write that on his racket-bag now.
Murray didn’t have much impact at junior Wimbledon. In 2002 and 2003, he lost in the first round, and in 2004, he was beaten in the third round. He had more impact at the junior version of the US Open, winning the 2004 title.
The following summer, Murray returned to the All England Club to play in the men’s tournament. He had already made an impression on the men’s game that year by winning a couple of rounds at the pre-Wimbledon tournament at Queen’s Club. He also won a couple of rounds at Wimbledon, and in the third round he led Argentina’s David Nalbandian, a former finalist, by two sets to love before winning in five. That season, Murray also reached his first final, finishing as the runner-up to Federer at the Bangkok tournament, which propelled him into the top 100. He also beat Tim Henman, in a match in Basle in Switzerland. Murray’s first senior title came in 2006 in San Jose in California and is best remembered for Murray’s celebration as he climbed into crowd to kiss his girlfriend, Kim Sears, on the lips.
He has improved with every visit to the All England Club; he made the fourth round in 2006, missed the 2007 tournament because of a wrist injury, reached the quarter-finals in 2008, he was a beaten semi-finalist from 2009-11, and this summer he has made his first final. Murray is ruthless when he needs to be with his coaching arrangements; ditching Mark Petchey, Brad Gilbert and then Miles Maclagan. It was on New Year’s Eve that he took the risk of hiring Ivan Lendl, The Man Who Never Won Wimbledon.
The Scot featured in a slam final for the first time in 2008, when he was the runner-up to Federer at the US Open. He played in another at the 2010 Australian Open, and again he lost to Federer in straight sets. His third slam final, at the 2011 Australian Open, also brought a straight-sets defeat, this time to Novak Djokovic. Now for his fourth. Murray is represented by XIX Entertainment, the same management company that looks after David Beckham. Win Wimbledon, and Murray will be almost as famous as Becks.