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Wimbledon 2015: Andy Murray radiates calm before facing storm of expectation

In the few hours left to him for contemplation before he walks out to face Mikhail Kukushkin on Tuesday Andy Murray might reflect on the unfortunate circumstances of his last appearance at Wimbledon, the defeat by Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-final a year ago.

Amélie Mauresmo had just joined him as coach and two other key members his team, Dani Vallverdu and Jez Green, were unhappy they had not been consulted. The loss to the Bulgarian on that otherwise pleasant afternoon was not pretty and, adding a patina of pain to the experience, there was Murray’s outburst during play, that sounded to most ears like “five minutes before the fucking match”, which indicated unspecified turmoil either unfolding or recently concluded behind the scenes.

It is still unclear what it all meant. Murray insists he cannot remember. But the best guess is that he was confronted with some advice or piece of information just before going on to Centre Court that unsettled his then fragile psyche.

He had been tense and unsure of himself for months, ever since Ivan Lendl had ended their two-year arrangement in March 2014 and here he was trying to defend his title and it was, he reckoned, all falling apart.

Then his life took another lurch, this time for the better, as it turned out. Vallverdu, his assistant coach, and Green, his fitness trainer, were still tenuously in place but soon would be jettisoned, on good terms. In the same week Murray announced he was to marry Kim Sears. His back began to feel loose again after the career-saving surgery towards the end of 2013.

The changes in Murray’s private life and very public career thereafter would be considerable and he would emerge from the experience at the start of 2015 not only more content than he had been for a long while but a dangerous player again, self-assured at last after the rolling upheavals that had threatened to disrupt the rehabilitation of his game seriously.

So he has returned to the scene of both his greatest triumphs and disappointments a different beast over the past week or so. There is calm in his eyes.

Kukushkin should not delay Murray long if he carries his recent form from the clay of Europe and the grass of Queen’s into his favourite tournament.

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Wimbledon has been his home for 10 years now and there is hardly a day when he does not look back on the drama and excitement of it all, sometimes while sitting alone, high up in the seats of Centre Court.

What did he remember of his very first match at Wimbledon, against the eccentric Swiss George Bastl whose claim to fame will forever be beating the seven-times champion Pete Sampras in the second round in 2002? Murray beat him 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. “I don’t remember loads about the match,” Murray says.

“I remember I played on No2 Court. I was the first match on and the crowd wasn’t full at the beginning. It was quite quiet and it gradually built up as I got to the end. I remember feeling very comfortable during the match. I felt quite confident during it.

“It was kinda everything that went with it was extremely new to me. I had never experienced big press conferences, people following me home. After the second match I went out to play mixed doubles and I couldn’t get to the court. That was really weird for me because just a few weeks before I was playing in front of five people. That is the kind of thing that sticks out for me when I think back then.

“I loved the matches on the court. There was no pressure, zero. No expectation. But off the court it was actually more hectic than it is now.

“Sometimes I have the odd cameraman or photographer or whatever following me around but then it was worse.” Did the pressure ease by the time he got to play David Nalbandian on Centre Court?

“Not for me. I didn’t really read the press at that age. I had no expectations myself and I think it doesn’t really matter what anyone else writes if you, in your heart, aren’t putting any pressure or expectations on yourself. So I just went out there and played and enjoyed it.”

The other change for Murray at this tournament is the presence of his new assistant coach, Jonas Bjorkman, and it seems to be a positive one. The Swede has been by his side for nine matches and nine wins during Mauresmo’s temporary absence this summer. Now they are all back together for the big one.

Bjorkman, a former world No4 who reached the semi-finals here in 2006, revealed he was commentating for Swedish television when Murray won the title two years ago. He said: “It would obviously be great to have another final. I would be very happy if Andy can get to that position.

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“Once again he is playing great tennis – and he has since the year started. His physical shape is really good. We are going to keep working hard on a few things and the team around will help him to be really strong and fresh.”

There is undeniably a sense that Murray is growing into his best tennis. Unlike too many times in the past, there is a certainty about him. He looks and sounds relaxed. How different it all was only 12 months ago.


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