Andy Murray has pushed at the febrile boundaries of public perception over the past year, from employing Amélie Mauresmo as his coach to declaring his support for Scottish independence. At every new turn he has emerged as his own man, comfortable being out of step with the majority view, an athlete who knows what he wants in his sport and his life. Now he reveals he is seeing a psychiatrist. That stark sentence will excite those looking for a sensational story to follow. They might be disappointed.
On the eve of Wimbledon, the Scot explains that looking more deeply into a science the uninformed might regard as the entry stage to treatment for mental illness has more to do, in his case, with the exploration of the mind and its workings in a wider sense.
He is not, he insists, losing it. Asked if he had returned to using a sports psychologist, he explained it like this: “I don’t use a sports psychologist. It’s a bit different to that. I’m more interested in learning the signs behind it and why the brain works in certain ways and why you may react or say things at certain times. I just tried to learn and understand myself better. When you do that you know you can cut yourself some slack sometimes. As you go along, you learn.
“I used a lot of sports psychologists when I was younger. Sometimes it helped and sometimes it didn’t feel like it did. But now I’m interested in learning about how the brain works, rather than being told how to count to 10, or whatever it is, to calm yourself down – which, for me, didn’t help.
“There is someone that I use. It’s not a mind guru, it’s a psychiatrist. There is a difference – so he tells me – between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the work I’m doing is different to the work I was doing in the past. I find it extremely interesting. When you see how you react in certain situations, it’s, like, yeah, that’s correct. But you need to be honest when you’re speaking to someone about those things because, if you aren’t, you’re just wasting your time.
“You have to be open and honest about the thoughts that you’re having and the feelings that you have. If you don’t and you lie about things to make yourself look stronger and tougher, it’s pointless. Because everyone has those thoughts.”
Could it help him win Wimbledon, though? Would it kick in at the highest level of his sport? “I haven’t necessarily learned about mind games and how to throw your opponent off,” he says – which may or may not have been a coded reference to the way Novak Djokovic double-bluffed him into a false sense of security towards the end of the first set of the Australian Open final, which Murray went on to lose.
“It’s more about understanding myself better, and the better you understand yourself it does help you before big matches. When I won Wimbledon, 40 minutes before I went on the court I didn’t know what was happening to my body, what was going on. I was so nervous.
“I had felt absolutely fine in the morning. So, when that came, I was: ‘Why was I not feeling that way two hours ago, what’s going on?’ And just learning about those things. If that was to happen next week or in a couple of weeks and I was in that position I’d be like: ‘OK I know what’s actually going on here, I know why this is happening and why I’m thinking this way – and it’s fine.’ I know better how to deal with that now.”
He adds: “When you are getting frustrated, you’re thinking only with emotions on the court. That isn’t great. Ideally, you don’t want to be thinking loads when you’re playing, but it’s also helpful when you finish, and you have maybe not dealt with things as well as you can.
“You understand why that’s happened and you can cut yourself some slack there too, so that you can get on with enjoying your life, rather than it being like gone for five, six, seven days – and then it affects your practice and your training and your preparations, throughout the course of the year.
“Some years ago, after the Australian Open, I struggled for three months [losing to two players outside the top 100 in succession]. I didn’t know why. I was upset and disappointed and didn’t really get over those losses for quite a long time, where now I don’t see that sort of thing happening. It could still happen, but it will be for different reasons.”
For professional Murray-watchers, these musings echo those tough times when he often sulked like a kid, and struggled to marry his passion for perfection and the disappointment of a poor performance or defeat. He set the bar so high inevitably he would sometimes slip under it, and the crash left him empty and confused.
Experience has brought him to different conclusions about his sport, how to stay on the rollercoaster without getting his fingers jammed or his brain scrambled, to remember he is married, and has a calm and settled life away, domestically and in business, from tennis. It has been a harder journey for Murray than for some, because he is an intense, complex individual with an inner drive only other champions understand.
Losing at anything disturbs him. The difference now is he can compartmentalise failure. One bad day does not have to lead to another one, just as winning a slam is not automatically followed by more success.
This summer, Murray has been as relaxed and as potent on court as I can remember him. He is without question, at 28, better placed to win here than he was when he did it two years ago and well over the long, slow rehab that followed his potentially career-ending back operation later that year.
He is convincing, too, in the shape and power of his stroke-making. His balance is superb. His speed and reflexes are sharp. He is ready, and he starts his campaign on Tuesday against Mikhail Kukushkin, whom he has beaten easily in their two meetings. Murray will give the 58th-ranked Kazakh as much attention as he would Djokovic in the final.
“I realise that a couple of years ago all my focus was on the grand slams,” Murray says. “I regret a little bit not being more focused throughout the rest of the year because I feel like when I’m in the right frame for every tournament I give myself more chances to win more events.
“I’m coming towards the latter stage of my career. I hope I have still five or six more years left. But I want to make the most of it. If I can win more events, great – the more matches I win, great. When I reached 500 matches in Miami I didn’t think loads about it before. I wasn’t like I really want to get to 500 match wins. But, when you see the players that have done that and where you could possibly get to, that’s motivation for me. So I want to make sure that the next few years I give myself the best opportunity to win as many tournaments and matches as possible.”
Is Murray not the most interesting man in tennis – or all of British sport?