Wimbledon: McEnroe on Murray

Reformed superbrat John McEnroe tells British hopeful Andy Murray how to keep cool

There is an old saying in sport: it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose… until you lose. But the biggest lesson I learnt in my career was that the most satisfaction I ever had, as a person or a player, was not when I was winning, but when I felt I was giving my absolute best.

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You learn about yourself as a person; how far you’re willing to go within yourself, to expose yourself and possibly embarrass yourself. That’s really tough when things aren’t going well, especially when you’re young, but it was more important than who won.

The match most people associate with me is the Wimbledon final I played against Bjorn Borg in 1980. I lost, but the players, the press and the fans respected me more as a result, and I learnt a lesson I can tell my kids and one I can pass on to Andy Murray – that it’s not “win at all costs”.

If Murray is to win a major, he must stop letting his shoulders drop. That projects a negative message and hurts a player. The way Novak Djokovic whipped Murray at this year’s Australian Open really blew Murray’s mind and he was so devastated that his energy levels plummeted over the next few months, as if there was nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing. It was like Murray didn’t want to be on court at all. He was negative before he got there.

I know this more than anyone. There were times where I’d get down on myself, and turn a positive into a negative. It was me against the world. Sometimes you need to fight yourself, to realise people are rallying behind you because of your effort and your game, and you can lose it quickly with a crowd, especially if they’re fickle like the French.

But Murray also needs to be more proactive on court, as he tends to be too reactive. I think he’s finally realised how hard Rafa Nadal and Djokovic have worked to improve their offensive game, to become world number one and number two respectively. To get past one, if not two, of the top guys, and win a Grand Slam, Murray needs to be more alert to the short ball and put his opponents on their heels, instead of playing off his own heels.

But it’s tough because the other guys – and that includes world number three Roger Federer – still seem so hungry. Murray’s got the desire and intensity, but so do the others. That’s what separates Nadal; he wants it more and tries harder than anyone. Though Nadal’s like a freak of nature! The only other player I saw try as hard was Jimmy Connors.

Murray must focus – it’s critical when you’re playing the best because, if you go through peaks and troughs, your opponent will make you pay. Against Federer at the French Open, for example, Djokovic lost it a bit in the second set, which cost him as he let Federer relax and he didn’t have to work as hard.

A leopard can’t change his spots, but that doesn’t mean Murray can’t be more positive when things are going well, to get the crowd behind him. The Murray you see off the court is more of a personality, having fun and poking fun at himself. One reason I’ve enjoyed my life in the commentary box is that people can see that side of me much more than when I was playing tennis.

The top guys prepare emotionally as much as they prepare to serve, and I think Murray sometimes wastes energy. There are occasions when you’re so wound up, you vent and it can cost you. The game has become more physical than ever, so you have to be one hundred per cent and find the will to turn a negative into a positive, and quickly. Especially at the majors when you’re playing the best of five sets, against a super-fit guy like Nadal, or Federer who’s super-talented, or Djokovic, who’s both – and he’s the same age as Murray.

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But the fact Murray reached the semis at the French Open, fighting through when he’d sprained his ankle to win a match he should’ve lost [against Michael Berrer], was a good step forward. Murray definitely has a better chance of winning Wimbledon than the French Open, but it will be hard for him to beat two of the top three. And he’ll also need a slice of luck.