Few of us know Andy Murray personally. Even fewer can claim to have any understanding of how it feels to shoulder the nation’s frenzied expectations when Wimbledon rolls around each year. But former British number one John Lloyd is a rare exception on both counts. Appointed captain of the British Davis Cup team in 2006, he worked closely with Murray as a young player. However, the pair later fell out when, after an embarrassing defeat to Lithuania (a fixture Murray chose to miss) Lloyd resigned, criticising the Scot for not showing enough commitment to the national side.
But now, three years on, the rift has healed and Lloyd is a vocal supporter of Murray, who he describes as “the man to beat” at this year’s Wimbledon. He isn’t the only one to have done an about-turn. As Murray himself confessed in his Sports Personality of the Year acceptance speech last month, he “isn’t always the easiest person to support”. However, with two grand slam titles and a more relaxed manner developing both on and off court, he has finally won over the British public – and their backing will be crucial in propelling him to victory in 2014.
“I wasn’t in Andy’s league but I didn’t like playing Wimbledon singles because of the expectation,” says Lloyd. “He’s a megastar in Britain but he seems to relish it now. I think he’ll look forward to returning this year. You look across the net at Andy now and you see a man in his prime. He’s a human dynamo.”
Whether Murray will be winning at this month’s Australian Open – his first major tournament since undergoing back surgery in September – is a different matter. A three-time finalist in Melbourne, Murray spent the months before Christmas locked in his Miami training camp, even choosing not to travel to England to receive his SPOTY award.
“I was a bit disappointed he didn’t go but it was a decision made by him and his camp. If he goes out and is OK at the
Australian Open then it was justified. I’ve heard that he’s working harder than ever – there’s no sign that he’s satisfied with what he’s achieved so far and that’s great for British tennis.”
Could Murray win in Melbourne? It’s unlikely, says Lloyd, but not impossible. “Realistically, Nadal and Djokovic are the obvious favourites.”
While it would be stupid to rule Federer out of winning another grand slam, Lloyd believes he is unlikely to make the final in any of this year’s major tournaments. “For a while Andy was the weakest of the ‘Fab Four’. But now Murray belongs in the big three and he knows it. They fear him and he fears them because they know what each other is capable of.”
The recent appointment of Boris Becker as Djokovic’s head coach suggests the Serb is looking to increase his silverware in 2014. “It’s a signal that Novak won one slam this year and wasn’t as successful as he would have liked,” says Lloyd. “It’s a sign of his desire.” Meanwhile, Nadal is as dangerous as ever, having finished the year as world number one just months after returning from a knee injury. “I’d say that Nadal will win the French Open, but the other grand slams are up for grabs.
“We’re very lucky in the men’s game because they’re so difficult to separate,” says Lloyd. “It’s a tennis war out there in 2014, fought between the three best players on the planet.”
Tennis: Australian Open is on Sunday from 12 midnight on Eurosport and Eurosport 2.