When I first met Andy Murray he was 17 and living in a wooden hut in Barcelona. It was painted yellow, with a bunk bed, a flower-print sofa and he had a Ukrainian for a roommate. There was so much rubbish on the floor you could hardly open and close the door. When his mum Judy came to visit, she brought news from home in Scotland, bags of Milkybar Buttons and chocolate digestives.
Judy had sent him to the Sánchez-Casal academy, after his elder brother Jamie had lasted just six months at the Lawn Tennis Association’s academy in Cambridge. She reckoned Andy would blossom away from the British mainstream. She was right.
When he returned to Spain after the 2004 US Open, he told friends he’d won the boys’ singles, thinking they might not know. But the tennis world was already starting to take notice of the teenager from Dunblane.
Eight years later, in September 2012, he won the men’s title at Flushing Meadows and became the first British man to win a grand slam title in 76 years. And now the first grand slam of 2013, the Australian Open, gives us a chance to see the new, revamped Andy Murray. A Murray who has the potential to end the year above Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
Judy disclosed at a Christmas lunch at Wimbledon that her son’s hiring of Ivan Lendl on the eve of the 2012 season was a career-defining move. Yet, for all the belief Murray gained from having a coach who understood what he was going through, nothing has the power to transform a player’s outlook like knowing he has made a grand slam champion’s speech.
Murray has predicted he will now be freer to go for his shots. So expect him to play more aggressive tennis, starting on the hard courts of Melbourne Park. As Lendl has always told Murray, “If you’re going to lose, go down swinging. Don’t go with your ass against the back fence, chasing down every ball.” When the Australian sun is at its most sadistic, temperatures can reach 40°C/104°F and higher, so you want to avoid long rallies. At their training camp in Miami in December, Murray and Lendl worked on shortening points. Put simply, he doesn’t want to “run as much” as he did last year.
Murray’s ambition was to win a grand slam. That doesn’t mean he’s sated by his US Open victory; he wants more. And John McEnroe has said Murray could win a couple of majors this season. If he does, he will probably become world number one. Reaching the top of the tennis tree is a great achievement in any era, but if Murray were to do so during a golden age of men’s tennis, it would be astonishing. It’s all a long way from his bunk bed in Barcelona.
Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Andy Murray, Champion: His Full Extraordinary Story.