Wimbledon: Andy Murray happy to be centre of attention
It is not the most obvious place for a tennis player to seek peace and quiet, but when Andy Murray is in reflective mood there is one spot in particular where he likes to go. When he practises at Wimbledon during the year he often takes the opportunity to sneak on to Centre Court, the stage on which so many of the most dramatic moments of his life have been played out.
"I've spent a bit more time at Wimbledon in the last year than I normally would have," Murray said. "There are good facilities and it's very quiet. Sometimes I want to get out of the way and not be bothered, just do my own thing.
"I've sat on Centre Court with no one there and thought a bit about the court, the matches I've played there. If I had done that five or six years ago I would not really have known what I was looking at; it was just another court. But when you have played so many matches you have a lot of memories from that court. It means a lot to me.
"I've done it many times over the last four or five months. When you sit down you think about all the matches you've played, not just one. It seems like a long time ago since the first time I played there."
It was seven years ago that Murray made his Centre Court debut in a match that established a template for so many matches of his career in terms of drama and excitement. He was 18, ranked No 312 in the world, and faced David Nalbandian, the world No 19 and a former finalist. Murray won the first two sets before his growing body gave way to fatigue and cramp. Nalbandian won in five sets but a British star had been born.
Murray, who plays his first match of this year's tournament tomorrow against Nikolay Davydenko, has since played in three Grand Slam finals, losing in Melbourne to both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who also beat him in New York. At Wimbledon he has come tantalisingly close in each of the last three years, losing in three successive semi-finals, twice to Rafael Nadal and once to Andy Roddick.
The public perception might be that the weight of history is always on Murray's shoulders at Wimbledon – it is 76 years since a British man won the title – but the Scot never sees it that way. He loves having the support of his home crowd and enjoys being able to return home every night to sleep in his own bed.
Even this time around, after a moderate clay-court season, problems with his back and a defeat in the first match of his only pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournament, he is in a positive mood.
"I feel relaxed because practice has been going well," he said. "A lot of times before a major event, if practice has been bad you'll be quite edgy and thinking: 'I need to get on the practice court, what can I do to make sure I'll be ready for the start of the event?' After Queen's, I was obviously a bit down. I wanted to play more matches there, but then the last few days I've played really well in practice."
Nevertheless, the off-court Murray can be a much more relaxed figure than he is on it. Ivan Lendl, his coach, has tried to keep the Scot focused on his tennis during matches – Lendl's influence was clear when Murray reached the Australian Open semi-finals this year with barely a scowl or a grimace before losing to Djokovic in the semi-finals – but since he has sometimes reverted to type.
"You have to be yourself," Murray said. "If you can self-motivate that's the most important thing. After some of the losses I've had over the years I could easily have been like: 'Oh, whatever, this isn't going to happen for me and I won't bother trying to improve myself or hiring Ivan and I won't train as hard as I do.' Everybody is different. Roger is completely different to Rafa and he is completely different to Novak.
"There have been times in matches in the past, in smaller events and Slams, where I would have said something negative or behaved in a way that probably didn't help me. But I've watched Novak in matches, yelling and going mental at his box, breaking rackets and whatever. Sometimes he can go on a really bad streak. In the final even, last year, he almost tanked the third set, but came back and won.
"For me, ideally I'd not like to have any moments in matches where I was negative, and it's something that I've tried to improve on, which I think I have over a five, six-year period. But it's part of my personality to be emotional. Also, if I went out on the court and said absolutely nothing, I know I would come off and people would say: 'Andy, what was wrong with you today? You seemed very flat on the court. You weren't expressing yourself'."
Murray said that Nalbandian's moment of madness at Queen's, where the Argentinian was defaulted from the final of the Aegon Championships after kicking an advertising hoarding and injuring a line judge, showed how even the most battle-hardened players sometimes fail to contain their emotions. "However much experience he's had, you still sometimes boil over," Murray said. "You can't always control that. Maybe it is something that has held me back, but I'm trying. I've tried to change it. It's not that I haven't looked and thought 'That's great' or seen myself on the court and thought: 'Andy, you can do a much better job with that.' I've tried. I've tried hard to do it, but it's not always possible to keep your emotions in check."
Does he worry about his public image? "I don't care about that any more," Murray said. "I've been called everything, by many people, criticised by great players, journalists or people in the street. Whatever I say or do, it's never going to be right. The only thing I can do is try to perform on the court. If I perform on the court, that's what I care about. I care about the people within tennis.
"I know what I do off the court. I think I'm a very nice person. I'm very polite to everybody that I meet. I don't say anything bad about any other players on the tour. So just because I'm a bit negative on the court sometimes, does that make me a bad person? I don't think that's the case."
Six months into his relationship with Lendl, Murray is confident that his coach can help him make his final breakthrough. "I guess you would say that the honeymoon period is over and now it becomes the same as most of the coach-player relationships I've had," Murray said. "He has a lot to offer, a lot more knowledge than most people in tennis. I want to work with him for a long time."
There was a time when players might have thought that at 25 their chances of winning a Grand Slam title had passed them by, but Murray pointed out that the average age of top players has risen significantly.
"It's more physical and tough when you're young, so it's taking guys a lot longer to break through," Murray said. "Guys are going to be peaking later in their career, as we've seen with guys like [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga, [Tomas] Berdych and [David] Ferrer.
"Guys have won Slams into their thirties, although it's not an easy thing to do the older you get. But look at [Andre] Agassi. Guys have won multiple Slams after 25 years old. Just because it hasn't been done that much, that doesn't mean it's not possible to do."