Andy Murray was striding with purpose around Wimbledon yesterday. No obvious sign of a limp, let alone a hobble, and no vestige of a wince or grimace either, just the furrowed brow of a man who knows a nation expects. Again.
Murray, who had to cancel two exhibition matches and a couple of practice sessions last week because of a hip problem, sweated his way through another three hour work-out yesterday.
Cue a collective sigh of relief and, as happens each summer with the predictability of hayfever, a stirring of belief too.
But, with nine defeats from 30 matches, this has been far from a vintage year for the Scot. He has won just one title and has admitted to suffering from a crisis of confidence and motivation until an encouraging run to the semi-finals at the French Open.
However, just one match on grass – a straight sets loss to Australian Jordan Thompson, then ranked 88 in the world, at Queen’s Club – means its prudent to temper expectation about what the next fortnight might hold.
In both his previous Wimbledon wins he’d won at Queen’s in preparation, indeed when he won at the All England Club for the first time, it was his 18th straight victory on grass.
On paper today’s first round opponent, Russian-turned-Kazakh qualifier Alexander Bublik, ranked 134 in the world, should not pose a threat.
But Murray, who is top seed at Wimbledon for the first time, has twice lost to lucky loser qualifiers this year, Borna Coric in Madrid and Thompson at Queen’s.
“The last few days have been very good,” said Murray, who also confirmed reports he will became a father for the second time later this year.
“It’s been slightly stop-start preparations but each day I’ve felt better.
“It’s a little bit like at the French Open, where maybe I didn’t come in as well-prepared, I still found a way with each match to feel a bit better, and built confidence each day. I’m hoping that’s the case here too.
“I’ve had hip problems since I was very young, it’s not something new to me. That was why I needed to take the break, to try and give it a chance to settle down.”
Murray insisted he has learned the lessons from his last title defence in 2014. Only four men in the open era – Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer – had returned after their first Wimbledon victory to defend the crown.
Three years ago, after another early defeat at Queen’s Club, Murray suffered a straight sets quarter-final defeat to Grigor Dimitrov, a match that arguably remains his most static and unconvincing performance since making his Wimbledon debut 12 years ago.“I don’t feel like I’m coming in trying to defend something. I’m going out there trying to win Wimbledon again,” he added.
“Perhaps it adds a little bit extra pressure, especially as you’re the first one out there on Centre Court.
“Hopefully with more experience I’m able to deal with things better this time round. I’ve certainly felt fairly calm the last few days. But if I wasn’t nervous or didn’t feel any pressure, then I’d be very worried by that. I’m not sure I’d be wanting to keep playing if that was the case.
“I want to be nervous and I want to feel the pressure at these events.”
Murray may be the home star but there’s no doubting that 36-year old Federer, aiming to become the oldest winner in 42 years, remains the real crowd favourite in this leafy corner of south-west London.
The British number one has lost to Federer in three Grand Slam finals and, six years his junior, Murray remains bullish there is more to come – whatever the days ahead may hold.
“I hope I’m still playing here for five, six, seven or more years,” he added. “I think just because of what Federer’s doing just now, which is incredibly rare, a lot of people think everyone is going to start doing that. I want to make sure I make the most of all of these chances that I have left, including this year. But whether someone’s the favourite or not to me is not relevant. Who wins the tournament at the end is what’s important.”
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