Andy Murray’s intensity is misunderstood, as Jimi Famurewa finds out during a surprising encounter with ‘Mr Angry’. As he strides into the room after training, gives us a brisk handshake and flops into a chair, ShortList can’t help but wonder which Andy Murray we’ll get today. Will he mumble grumpily throughout? Dust off enough sporting clichés to shame a football manager? Smash a racquet then angrily chomp through a banana if he disagrees with our viewpoint? Thankfully, our initial jitters are misplaced.
Britain’s No1 tennis player might possess a cold-eyed determination that’s taken him a whisker away from his first grand slam title (most recently as the losing finalist at this year’s Australian Open), but in person he’s relaxed, self-deprecating, honest and funny. Hardly the sporting Groundskeeper Willie he’s been depicted as. But with the biggest Wimbledon of his career looming, is that all about to change?
It’s not long now until Wimbledon. Be honest, are you ever annoyed by ‘Murraymania’ and the extra pressure it brings?
I don’t mind it, and I love playing at Wimbledon. It’s the four or five days before the tournament that are tough and different to any of the others. The spotlight is mainly on me and there are more strains on my time when I need to get rest. But once the tournament starts, I find it a lot easier to relax because I can go home and sleep in my own bed. And, obviously, on the court I get the support. Look at football — teams always play better at home. It shouldn’t make a difference because the court is still the same, but subconsciously it helps.
Surely all the media attention can’t be good for your concentration?
You have to try to embrace it. I’ve spoken to a few people and if you’re going out of your way to change your normal daily routine it doesn’t help. Whether it’s reading a newspaper, switching on the TV or going on the internet, it doesn’t make sense to stop doing those things because you might be [featured] in them.
Do you tire of the questions around your national identity?
I do because it’s just... [laughs] well, annoying. I’ve played tennis under Great Britain since I was 12 years old. I have a lot of English friends, a lot of my family is English, my girlfriend is English and I live in England now. I’m proud to be Scottish as I’m sure most English people are proud to be English. But when I play tennis, I play under Great Britain and I’m very proud to do that. It gets annoying because every year when Wimbledon comes around the same thing comes up.
Has it made you wary of what you say in front of people?
Definitely in interviews. It’s tough. When I first came on the tour I just answered questions as they were asked. I treated it like being with my friends. But after a few things like that happened it became quite stressful and I lost focus on what I was meant to be doing. It’s about winning tennis matches not saying stuff in press conferences. So I found that it was better not to expand on my answers or say anything that may come across as controversial or wrong. That annoying thing happened at the beginning of my career and I thought, “Is it really worth making a joke [in an interview] if a few people take it the wrong way?”
Away from the court you’ve just done some acting in a viral for a Facebook campaign to ‘get Brits behind Andy for Wimbledon’. Your performance was pretty good...
[Mock-incredulous] Really? It was good fun but as it happens, at the start of the day I had a blood test and I fainted because I was having a lot of blood drawn. I came to and thought, “This just isn’t going to be good at all.” But it was actually really good fun. Maybe it helped my performance.
You also had to strip down to your pants for a shower scene. Was that difficult?
It was pretty embarrassing. I had to wear tiny pants and they didn’t leave much to the imagination.
Did you ensure that the, um, temperature was regulated that day?
[Laughs] Yeah, and I had a sock that helped me out.
Do you feel that a lot of people don’t see your fun side? You’re painted as something of a ‘Mr Angry’.
Yeah, and maybe it’s because of my attitude on the court. But it wasn’t the case at the start of my career. I remember at my first Wimbledon everyone was saying, “Oh, it’s great. What a breath of fresh air after Tim Henman” [laughs]. Then a few things go the wrong way, you change the way you’re acting and they go, “Ah, he’s being pretty boring and not saying much.” I feel like I’m completely different off the court. I enjoy myself and I’m always laughing and joking around. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter, but I would like to be viewed differently.
Does anger ever help you on the court?
If you’re moaning for two or three games, it’s not productive. But, if you’re quite an emotional person and you let it out once, then it can make you feel better and calm you down. I used to moan a lot more but it’s something I’ve concentrated on getting better at. It’s my job, and I know a lot of people who when they get in from work, moan about how bad their day was. I’m very lucky to play sport [for a living] but obviously I go through periods where I’m tired and under pressure so all of a sudden I’m saying stuff that I shouldn’t be.
How do you unwind?
I watch loads of boxing, I go go-karting and play 11-a-side football. I get quite animated when I talk about other sports because it’s something I’m very interested in. Whereas all the time I get asked about tennis, and specific matches, and, “What were you doing on this point?” which can get quite repetitive.
Yeah, I actually spent a bit of time with David Haye in Miami. I went to watch him training which was amazing. I didn’t take a punch — he’s a big guy. But he was a good person to speak to because tennis and boxing are both individual sports. We share an understanding on certain things. The pressure if you have a big fight or tournament coming up, dieting and the responsibility. In football, the manager’s telling you what to do and the club employs the coach whereas in tennis, you pick the coach, fitness trainer and whatever. If I lose it’s not like people blame my coach or my fitness trainer, they blame me.
Any other guilty pleasures you can tell us about?
Eating Milkybar yoghurts, that’s my one thing. I have quite a lot of them but I’ve been trying to improve my diet this year. I play Pro Evo most nights too. We all play on the tour.
Can you take out frustrations on the court by beating someone such as Rafa Nadal on the PS3?
Yeah, I’m definitely better than Rafa Nadal at Pro Evo [laughs]. The thing is we play two-against-two in teams. He plays with his tennis partner, a guy called Juan Monaco, and I play with Dani, my coach. It can be close.
In all seriousness, do you ever curse the fact that you’ve emerged at the same time as greats such as Nadal and Roger Federer?
No. I’ve played against them a lot and I’ve got a good record against Roger, Rafa and even Novak Djokovic. Rafa’s the only one I’ve won against in grand slams, but my record against him isn’t as good. I’ve beaten them all at least three or four times each, so I know that I can win against them. It’s just about making sure that when I go up against them in the big matches, I can do it. I feel a lot better about that now than I did in the build-up to this year’s Australian Open and afterwards.
Have you fully recovered from the Australian Open now?
It was disappointing. Because it’s just one tournament, people think, “Oh, it’s fine. He’ll have another one next week.” But so much work goes into getting ready for it. You have your off-season in November and December, so you’re training through that time to get yourself into good shape. You go to Australia and it’s the middle of their summer, so you’re playing matches in 35C. A lot goes into the preparation and, obviously, getting so close and not winning is really disappointing. You need to pick yourself up. It took me a little while to do that but I feel good now.
Is it tough to keep enjoying the game after being so tantalisingly close to victory?
When things are going well it’s easy to enjoy yourself, but when things aren’t going well you need to try to enjoy — but still find what’s going wrong and ways to get better. In the last couple of years I’ve been much better at that, and every time I’ve struggled a bit, I’ve always come back from it well.
Do you feel like this could finally be your year?
I feel good. I was injured [earlier this year] but it was only for one week. That sort of injury in sport is nothing, so I was training the whole time and I don’t feel rusty. I didn’t play well after the Australian Open but now I feel fresh.
You’re on Twitter, but the social-networking site has got sportsmen in trouble. Are you still a fan?
I don’t understand people going on there just to slam others, or when celebrities use it to have a go at each other. I’d rather use it to speak to my followers than to slam other people. Being positive on it is really important too. There’s a lot of negativity that flies around and people can say anything online. But if they saw you the next day they wouldn’t walk up to you and say what they said online.
Finally, have you still got your Ferrari F430?
I exchanged it. The thing was, I really enjoyed driving it and once you’re inside, it’s great. But I always felt like a d*ck when I got out. I didn’t want to take it anywhere or park it — I just wanted to drive it. It was fun while it lasted.
Murray stars in the new viral from Head Tennis entitled ‘Get Closer’; facebook.com/headtennis