x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Grass now greener for Andy Murray

Andy Murray kicks off the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against Janko Tipsarevic and it seems that his recent success, rather than heaping pressure on him, has liberated him.

Andy Murray is seeking more happy returns such as those he experienced in 2012 in winning gold at the London Olympics or his first grand slam title at the US Open.
Andy Murray is seeking more happy returns such as those he experienced in 2012 in winning gold at the London Olympics or his first grand slam title at the US Open.

For Andy Murray, 2013 will have to be some year to beat the one he has just had. Wimbledon finalist, Olympic champion and, at long last, a winner of a grand slam event, the US Open in September.

It says much about the Scotsman's soaring confidence that on Wednesday, as he practised at Zayed Sports City's courts in Abu Dhabi, and chatted with reporters, he could not have looked more relaxed if he had been on holiday.

Murray kicks off the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against Janko Tipsarevic on Thursday, and it seems that his recent success, rather than heaping pressure on him, has liberated him.

"I've been enjoying practising and going to the gym more because I felt that I've finally been rewarded for putting all that hard work in," he said.

"It became more enjoyable after that [US Open win] and I trained really hard in the off-season in December and hope that I can keep improving."

Murray seems visibly happier, and is far more affable than many give him credit for.

And there is more to the world No 3 than his often subdued exterior reveals, as he spoke of what he looks out for, outside of tennis, while on tour.

"I follow football. I support Hibs [Hibernian] in Scotland but don't get to see them much, and I also follow Arsenal," he said. "I also spend a lot of time training in Miami so I like the Miami Heat in basketball.

"Boxing is another sport I like."

Perhaps part of the reason behind this relaxed Murray is that these days he does not set himself long-term targets, something he often did in the past.

"The last couple of years I've been very consistent in grand slams but in the other tournaments I would struggle for consistency because I was almost starting to get obsessed with the slams," he said. "As soon as one was over I was looking four or five months ahead to the next one and not necessarily paying enough attention to the rest of the tour.

"That's something I will look to improve on."

Murray was keen to stress the positive influence that his coach, Ivan Lendl, has had on his career over the past year.

"He helped with a lot of small things, technical things, mental and psychological things, some physical things, as well, and tactical things in matches," said Murray, 25.

"A lot of those small things add up to five or 10 per cent extra in my game and that is what I needed to finally get over the last hurdle and win one of the major tournaments."

Murray thrashed Roger Federer in the Olympic final on Wimbledon's Centre Court, and in September his US Open triumph saw him take that "last hurdle".

But, for Murray, one tournament still looms larger than all others: Wimbledon. To his credit, despite the almost unbearable weight of hope and expectations in Britain, he does not play down the event's importance.

"Wimbledon is obviously for me the most important tournament of the year, and this year was the closest I've come," he said.

"The Olympics was a pretty good consolation; it was the biggest win of my career at that time."

Some consolation indeed, and proof that despite his relaxed demeanour, he is setting his sights higher than ever.

Still, Wimbledon is six months away and Murray says a lot can happen in the meantime.

Murray renews his rivalries with three of the greatest tennis players of the last decade, perhaps of all time - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - starting with the Australian Open next month.

For the first time, however, it is Murray who goes into a tournament as the most recent grand slam winner.

Does he feel he finally belongs up there with those three?

Yes, and no.

He concedes their CVs are more impressive, but he knows current form matters most. Then he adds with a smile: "Over the course of our careers I would definitely take Roger's over mine."

But now that he has broken into that elite group, surely that coveted No 1 ranking is a target.

Not so, he says.

"Every player would obviously like to get there but my focus is more on the tournaments and trying to be consistent outside of the grand slams," Murray said.

"By doing that you give yourself a chance to improve your ranking, but I don't want to be adding extra tournaments and messing up my schedule just to get to No 1."

Abu Dhabi Tennis fans will be glad this is one event he has chosen to play. And do not be surprised if, when he returns next, he has added more major championships to his list of honours. Perhaps even that No 1 spot.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

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