Tim Henman famously spent a lot of his time trying to convince us he wasn’t as nice as all that. So when Henman called Andy Murray a ‘miserable git’ at a charity do the other day, we ought to listen. Though, bless him, when Murray was asked about this he did say, ‘Well I suppose I am a miserable git really.’
But it’s the heart of the clay court season next week, with the start of the French Open, and isn’t it about time this prodigiously talented young Scot started to deliver? Sure he has beaten Roger Federer twice, but in tennis terms the Swiss World No. 1 is almost at bus pass age. Murray needs to start putting one over his exact contemporaries — the brilliant Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Last Sunday in the final of the Hamburg Open, Nadal was down 5-1 to Federer in the first set. Watching, my friend said, ‘Nadal’s not going to let that go.’ And sure enough the Spaniard reeled off the next six games to take the set 7-5. Right now it’s hard to imagine Murray cultivating anything like that steeliness. Most often, when things go against him you almost sense him starting to give up.
For years he has burned through coaches, including Brad Gilbert. He used his coaches as the focus of his anger and general foul-mouthed salvoes. Well fine, everyone likes a bit of aggression in a sportsman. But bad behaviour has got to get somewhere. Think McEnroe. Murray cranked himself up into a tsunami of swearing against Nikolai Davydenko in the Dubai Open, yet he still lost. He needed to see an insult to his mother Judy to fire himself up against the Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the first round of the Italian Open a couple of weeks back (though he then lost easily in the next round). I gather del Potro made some remark that Murray might just be a bit scared of his mother. Insult? I don’t think so: documentary truth more like. Judy Murray is one of the scariest women on the planet. Terrific coach I’m sure, but you wouldn’t like her on your case too much.
And you can only get away with playing the surly teenager for so long: roughly while you are still a teenager. Murray was 21 last week, on the day he was beaten by Nadal in Hamburg. Afterwards Nadal was very generous to Murray, saying he was ‘very complete’. And that is absolutely true: Murray is an awesomely talented player. The first British male for years who you can see winning a Grand Slam. His service is getting better, as is his return, he has a superb all-court game and is gifted with a very fast arm. What he needs is a strong coach who can get the best out of him; what he seems to want is a coach he can manipulate. That, as they say, is a problem.
And he has to be a bit careful of his image. Murray has now turned, and not before time, to Stuart Higgins, the former editor of the Sun and a very smart operator when it comes to restoring reputations.
A fascinating recent interview with Murray and his extravagantly coiffed elder brother, the adorable Jamie, in the Observer Sport Monthly will certainly have helped the process. Both emerged as loveable puppies. Though Jamie came out with words of sublime wisdom: ‘I don’t really get stressed. I don’t have too much to get stressed about to be honest. What do I do? I get up in the morning and practise tennis. I go and play a doubles match and then I go and have dinner with my friends in the evening. It’s not too much to get too wound up about.’
You hope a lot of sports people read that. Not least his brother Andy.