Words: Alex Synamatix
Less than a week before Wimbledon kicks off, we sat down with the defending champion and first Brit to win the title since 1936, Andy Murray, to talk about the pressure of retaining the title, his relationship with adidas and his prediction for the return of short shorts.
He’s had a rough ride in the media, what with his persona being easy to misread as dry and therefore put out of context, and at times it’s hard not to feel like that’s left him a little wary of journalists. Regardless, he is still a warm and open character from start to finish and still can’t help himself from joking about things (including himself) during interviews. One thing is abundantly clear throughout our time with Andy, he’s a man of sport and that’s his big passion. As with any sporting success, you start getting pulled in all kinds of directions by brands and media alike, wether that’s fashion lines, stylists, modelling or other media appearances and as much as Andy puts aside the time that he can for media (and does so graciously), I couldn’t help but think that he’s a man who likes to unwind in private when not being put through his demanding training routine or competing.
It was interesting to hear his thoughts on the pressures of returning to Wimbledon, but mostly to hear him talk with a slight detachment about other people’s expectations as opposed to his own. To put it simply, no one puts more pressure on this man than himself and very few successful people get where they are by listening to the crowds. In a career where people have been quick to pick up and drop their support for him (especially in England) and often over trivial misunderstandings, it comes as no surprise that Andy is focusing on his own path and not paying too much attention to the voices of the media of the public, often brushing it off with laugh that makes me think that he takes the whole situation and himself with a pinch of salt. It was a pleasure to meet one of our most successful and humble sporting greats …
You’ve recently announced your new coach Amelie Mauresmo. How do you go about getting into the rhythm of working with someone new, so close to the lead up to Wimbledon?
Well basically, last week Amelie came on Tuesday and just observed. She watched my matches, watched my practices and stuff, took notes, and then after the tournament finished we sat down, had a chat and I started practicing again yesterday. Basically, we just got on the court, worked on some things and that was it. But it is different, in that kind of lead role when you change someone. And obviously my previous coach was a big personality, a big character, so it’s definitely different.
How has your mindset changed from competing for the title at Wimbledon to defending it for the first time?
I think there’s probably less pressure this year because every year I played Wimbledon I would always get asked about “It’s been 70 odd years since someone won” – it started to get a bit annoying because I would get asked about it all the time for basically 7 or 8 years. So I think this year will be a bit less pressure, but in terms of the way you approach a tournament, it’s still kind of the same because the goal is to try and win the event regardless of wether I won it last year or not. I’ll try to win it again this year, so I still train and prepare exactly the same.
Obviously training is incredibly important, especially before a major tournament, but how do you unwind and relax in between?
Well the nice thing currently is being at home. I get to stay in my own bed, I have all my friends and family around here and yeah, we don’t really get that the rest of the year because we’re always travelling. At all of the other events, when we play we’re in a different city, so to relax it’s not quite the same. It’s just nice being at home – I live 15 minutes from here, so I can drive in. Drive in to work [laughs]. That’s basically it. I just live like I normally do when I’m away from the tennis tour – hang out with my friends, spend a lot of time with my dogs … and watch the World Cup.
Are you rooting for anyone in particular?
I’m not going to get into that again [smiles]. I’ve been getting asked about this same question for about 9 years now after making a joke about something, so I’m not getting into that. I watch all the England games with my girlfriend. Well pretty much all of my friends from here are English, so I sit and watch the games with all of them.
Who did you pick out of the hat for the sweepstake?
Ecuador and Switzerland. Unfortunately. Well, Switzerland won yesterday.
Do you follow many sports outside of tennis?
Yeah, every sport pretty much. I love sports. Even when I was growing up I didn’t just play tennis, I played loads of sports, so yeah I follow pretty much every one.
You were recently knocked out of Queens early on. Is the transition from clay to grass an issue for tennis players on the tour?
It’s hard because it’s a completely different surface. All of the players that did well at the French Open didn’t do well this week on the grass. It takes time and 2 or 3 days to practice isn’t really enough. It’s a quick transition but the only positive I can take out of losing at Queens is that it gives me more time to get used to the surface and practice on it and prepare and train to get ready for Wimbledon.
What’s your regime like a week prior to Wimbledon?
Well today I practiced for 2 hours, from 11:00 to 1:00. I see my physio for an hour before I practice, then I train for 2 hours, then I went to the gym and did some weights for about 40 minutes and then had some lunch, saw the physio again and that’s pretty much what I do most days. I won’t do weights every day, I’ll do different stuff in the gym each day. I probably do 2, 2 and a half, 3 hours of stuff each day.
You said in the July 2013 issue of GQ “After everything that’s happened to me in my career so far, to have finally reached a point where I don’t have to worry about expectation is a really nice feeling”. Now being the Wimbledon champion and going into the defence, do you still stand by that statement?
For years I was getting asked about if I was ever going to win Wimbledon, when’s it going to happen, it’s been this long. I don’t get asked those questions any more, so there’s obviously a little less pressure from the media side, but for me personally, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well and Wimbledon for me is the most important tournament of the year. So there’s always going to be people expecting me to do well. Someone told me the other day that there was a poll on the BBC or Sky that asked if I was going to successfully defend my title and it was like “85% of people said no” … so the expectation isn’t obviously the same as it’s been in previous years [laughs].
Talking wins – Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open in recent years, what impact do you think that’s had on tennis as a sport in the UK?
I don’t really know to be honest. I know there’s been more demand to play tennis in terms of youngsters wanting to play, but I don’t think there’s been a lot of facilities and stuff being built because of it. So I think the demands there, but I don’t actually think the facilities are.
Has that been one of your goals, to raise the profile of the sport amongst the next generation?
I hope so. I think any tennis player that plays in this country would hope to do that, to help the next generation of players, and I’m sure when I finish playing I’ll still be involved in tennis to some respect. Everyone has to try to give back as much as possible because I think in all sports it helps kids to have role models or people to look up to in those sports. I know someone like a Jess Ennis meant that a lot of young girls started to get into athletics and stuff because of her and her success. She’s a great role model for them and I think that helps in tennis as well.
When we interviewed Stan Smith he commented that “players should at least have to know the history of the game that they’re playing”. Do you agree that it’s important for players to have a rich understanding of the sport’s history?
Yeah I think they should. All of the players have to go through an ATP University that’s basically a 2 day thing where they talk a little bit about the history of the game and talk a little bit about how to deal with the media, things you should and shouldn’t say, they talk about the rules of the game, the etiquette of the game, that sort of stuff. But yeah, that’s one thing when you’re growing up that’s not something that’s really taught to you at all. I didn’t know loads about the real history of the game until I started to play on the main tour. When you walk around Wimbledon you see the hundred years of winners that have been there, they’re all up on the wall and then you start to appreciate it a bit more. Also for me, playing at a time when you’ve got guys like Federer and Nadal who are 2 of the greatest of all time, people are always comparing them to McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, who I obviously worked with as well, so I’ve started to take a lot more interest in the last sort of 7 or 8 years. But when I was a kid growing up, no one ever talked to me about the history of the sport at all.
Why do you think players aren’t starting their own lines these days like Fred Perry, René Lacoste and Björn Borg did?
I think probably some people are a bit scared of doing it and it’s also a big thing to do. We probably have more commitments then people did back then. Also, financially as well, players didn’t even have coaches that long ago – people now travel with fitness trainers, physios and all sorts. I think some of it’s a cost thing and also some people don’t know where to start either.
Have you never been tempted yourself?
[laughs] Umm no. I’ve thought about it, but wether or not it would be any good, I don’t know [laughs]. And also that’s the other thing, you don’t want to start something up that in the space of 2 months is absolutely useless and it goes dead. I would only do something like that if I was 100% sure it would do ok.
Who do you think are the ones to watch going in to Wimbledon this year?
The 2 people that I would say to try to go and watch that are probably the future of tennis is one girl called Taylor Townsend, she got a wild card into the event from Wimbledon, she’s an American girl. And on the mens side there’s an Australian boy called Nick Kyrgios, he’s 19 and he was the number 1 junior in the world. Taylor Townsend lost in the final of junior Wimbledon last year. They would be the 2 I would recommend for people that follow tennis and are going to continue following it, they would be the 2 that I would recommend to try and go and watch or see on the TV because they’ll be good in the future.
How has your relationship with adidas developed since you signed with them in 2009?
Well obviously when you start working with a new company it takes time for them to get to know you and the things that you like. You know. Over time you build up a relationship with them. A lot of people that work on the tennis side I’ve actually known since I was about 15 years old because I used to be with adidas when I was a kid as well. So that’s nice because I’ve known a lot of them for a long time. I think that over the period of time I’ve been working with them they’ve realised that, for me, the major competitions, the Grand Slams are extremely important to me and I need my time around those tournaments to prepare properly for the event. And it’s hard some times because obviously that’s the time when the athlete is the most visible – right before Wimbledon for example – but I also don’t have as much time this week as I’d like to give as well, so it’s just about finding the right balance.
And do they give you much input into the development and design of product?
Yeah well often when I’m training I test a lot of the products. A few people from the company will come over and watch the training, take photos and chat to me and stuff. Mainly on the shoes. That’s obviously for the tennis player the most important part of the equipment, along with the racket, so I chat to them a lot about that to try and get the best shoe I can.
Vintage tennis shoes are having a strong resurgence in the lifestyle market at the moment, with the re-issue of the adidas Stan Smith and the upcoming re-issue of the adidas Edberg. Do you have any classic tennis footwear that you are particularly fond of?
I like the Stan Smith shoe. I think it’s nice, it’s just solid. For me they’re pretty comfortable to wear as well. Yeah, I like them. Also, at one of the tournaments I wore one of Lendl’s shirts as well, kind of the old school style. Yeah, the one thing that I think soon is going to come back is the short shorts [smiles]. I think that’s going to come back. People ask me about it quite a lot, like “When are the players going to start wearing short shorts again? Do you think it will come back?” so I think at some stage it will. Maybe not quite as short as in the past!
Is that the Andy Murray line?
No, I won’t be the first one [laughs]. With the tan lines I’ve got on my legs, it would look horrendous.