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ANDY MURRAY PROFILE

29/09/2008

By Richard Eaton

It has been an increasingly uncomfortable sign of the times that, just by handing over money, so many thousands of ordinary players can get to wear the logo of Fred Perry, the three times Wimbledon and US Open winner of more than seventy years ago. So a hint of relief has accompanied the successes which carried Andy Murray to World No.4 and within striking range of the major title which might make him the first British man deserving on merit to wear the ubiquitous laurel wreath.
 
There has also been a hint of surprise that Murray's progress has accelerated so fast. A short time ago his alleged faults were being identified one by painful one for everyone to contemplate and criticise.
 
He was too grumpy, too scrawny, too unfit, too defensive, too weak-headed, too arrogant, too angry and too immature, tried too many drop shots and was too keen on having too many yes-men.
 
So how has he got past all this? First, by ignoring the critics. It is over them that he has scored a sequence of notable victories this year as well as against the three best players in the world.
 
What was sometimes overlooked is that he was still young, and neither physically nor emotionally mature; that during the integration of a style with many parts, mistakes must happen; that he was being made to unravel difficult emotional knots under scrutiny, and that he couldn't be aware of the implications of every word.
 
It didn't attract as much attention that Murray generously decided to ignore Tim Henman's well-meant advice to reveal as little to the media as possible, and that thanks to his wonderful combination of deft hands, very sharp brain, good speed, intense dedication, and transcendent imagination we were witnessing the emergence of the probably finest player in the history of British tennis.
 
Of course Murray is not to everyone's liking. How could he possibly be? Ever since the age of fifteen when he went to live and train in Barcelona he has been intent on doing things his way - and his way isn't like anyone else's.
 
His feelings could bubble over like a loose cork; at other times he could be nerdily impenetrable. “His idea of a good time was to come and analyse tennis matches and then spend about seven hours playing video games,” Brad Gilbert said sardonically.
 
But Murray is also well intentioned, discreetly sensitive, and magnificently focused. It has made an extremely hard worker, clever at seeking advice, and visionary about his goals.
 
Recently he appointed former Sun editor Stuart Higgins as a PR guru, sensing perhaps a need to make his laconic humour more evident, while Team Murray, offering multiple expertise and dissipating tensions among several people, has been quite a success.
 
“I feel a lot calmer,” he said. “Murray is using his emotion now in a positive way,” commented John McEnroe.
 
And although it was expensive decision to jettison the LTA-paid Gilbert, it was only nine months before Murray was earning a million dollars for his efforts in the US Open series, culminating in his first Grand Slam final.
 
He has also been aware of the importance of filling out his physique.
 
During 2006 he was still growing to the nicely threatening six-feet three-inches which he has now become, and people did not realise that this spurt decided him to wait a little before doing the heavy gym work.
 
Now the difference is marked. Murray's bared biceps at Wimbledon, or his Popeye pose as they cheerfully preferred to call it at the US Open, was a public thank you to his back-up team for aiding this transformation.
 
Parallel to this has been the improvement of his fitness. That was what helped him back from two-set deficits against both Gasquet at Wimbledon and Melzer in New York and saved him when he was at risk of going to a fifth set against the newly dangerous Juan Martin Del Potro.
 
“I've worked harder than ever before,” Murray said, pleased with the appointments of two trainers, Jez Green and Andy Little. Their efforts have been supplemented by vital day-today maintenance from Andy Ireland.
 
Without a careful dialogue with the travelling physio Murray probably would not have managed the year-long leap from eleven to four in the ATP World Rankings during the tour's toughest-ever schedule and might not even have made it on to court in Cincinnati, where he took his career-first Masters Series title, after a difficult week in Toronto with his troublesome knee.
 
This congenitally split patella added to the arguments of those who feel that Murray errs on the side of being too defensive and doing too much running. His penchant for subtlety enticing opponents into over-reaching themselves and laying themselves open to unsuspected counter-attacks caused him to cover so many miles that he risked long-term damage to his body.
 
Murray has responded trying to add pace to his first serve. When he succeeds in this it provides cheap points, leads to initiative-grabbing opportunities, alters the psychology of a match, creates multiplies tactical options, and offers quick escapes from crises.
 
During the win against Rafael Nadal which carried him to his first Grand Slam final Murray delivered fully twenty aces and his fastest ever serve, 138mph. “When I'm serving above 65 per cent on first serves and consistently hitting them at 125mph and above I'm very, very difficult to break," he said. "When that doesn't happen, top players get chances and they take them."
 
Privately he was also very pleased that his drop shot worked so well in Cincinnati. The criticism that he was using this shot too much had always sounded a bit like the Emperor Joseph II telling Mozart he had written too many notes.
 
Murray knew it was another valuable extra ingredient. After winning the Qatar Open title he volunteered that many players got by merely with a big serve and a big follow-up, implying that he had always understood the complexities needed in building a truly world-beating style. But sometimes he admitted that it took time to understand how best they blended.
 
“Andy's got at least three different options and not many players have that out there,” Roger Federer reckoned in New York. “He can slice, he can come to the net, and he can stay far back, even very far back. For this reason you have to adapt a little bit, depending on how he plays you.”
 
In fact there are other options, including the one which he used to end Federer's title defence in Dubai, tempting the champion to attack so that he did not have to risk foundering on the great player's tremendous defence.
 
And so now eulogising accolades have replaced the irritating brickbats.
 
“Destined for greatness,” according to one scribe. “Destined to earn £80 million,” according to his manager. “Andy is up there with myself, Federer and Djokovic,” said Nadal. “Having experienced a Grand Slam final it will take him forward again,” Federer said persuasively. “Andy will be at the top of the game for a very long time.”
 
Are they right? Murray appeared to think so. “I don't want to be remembered just as the guy who lost in the US Open final,” he said.
 
“Thanks to his wonderful combination of deft hands, very sharp brain, good speed, intense dedication, and transcendent imagination we are witnessing the emergence of the probably finest player in the history of British tennis.”