When Andy Murray faced the media at the World Tour Finals for the last time, it was Remembrance Day, and one day short of the final. He had just lost to Roger Federer, and he looked weary, sounded drained.
But although it had not been the fairytale ending that he and the British faithful might have wished for—a third London final, a second London title, the perfect conclusion to his Grand Slam winning 2012—Murray was far from down.
For while the outer Murray couldn’t wait to get out of there—and his face perked up just at the mention of holiday plans, of whether to choose sun or snow—the inner Murray could not hide his satisfaction, his confidence and his optimism. In short, this was a very different man from the one who made a gloomy, injured exit from the tournament a year ago.Yes, he conceded:
I would have liked to have finished with a win. But for me, it’s been the best year of my career by a mile…I’ve achieved things I’ve never achieved before.
So a holiday beckoned, except it appeared to feature neither sun nor snow. After writing “see you in January” on his Facebook wall on the night he left the O2, he then posted a season-ending blog for the BBC on his website, went north to Craiglockhart for a Set4Sport event with crowds of young fans, grinned his way through a football feature with Mark Lawrenson—making his fantasy football choices into the bargain—and plugged the Children in Need campaign in which he donned boxing gloves for an Olympians’ spot.Maybe that’s the Murray idea of a holiday: He did after all say in his blog:
When I don’t exercise, I can only last for four or five days before I start to need it.
But this winter, all players are enjoying the time and space to indulge in whatever they like before the hard training starts again, and most of them seem as reluctant as Murray to let the grass grow under their feet.
Novak Djokovic, WTF trophy in hand, went off to play a charity exho in Bratislava, then headed to Brazil to take part in both tennis and football events before his vacation. Federer hit the beach first but he, too, is trans-Atlantic-bound for South America for some exho tennis.
Murray—well perhaps he intends simply to enjoy the peace of his London home and some energetic dog-walking before his attention turns anew to the tennis court and his usual four-week pre-season training camp in Florida.
He talked after his loss in London of what drives such dedication.
It’s tough to sum up the last year in one word, but if I had to it would be ‘motivational’.
Sometimes when you lose a tough match or a big final, you spend the next few days thinking ‘Is it worth it? Is all the training making a difference? Will I ever be good enough to win one of these big events.’ I’ve been through so many highs and lows already throughout my career, and to experience the sort of highs that I did in the summer made me realise it absolutely was worth it. I finally did it, and it’s given me a lot of motivation going into next year to keep working on my game, keep improving.
By Murray’s side at the start of their second year together will be coach Ivan Lendl, who Murray credits with much of his success in 2012:
Ivan has helped me a lot this year, working with him is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career, and I know he’ll keep pushing me hard to achieve even more.
And Lendl clearly believes that Murray can achieve a lot more, as he told the BBC World Service this week:
I can see myself being with him for the rest of his career. I have a lot of plans where I would like to see Andy end up with his game. I think [he can achieve] a lot more. In sport, you cannot predict, you can only anticipate. Both Andy and I would be disappointed if at the end of the day he does not win [Wimbledon].
It seems to have been a marriage made in heaven. Neither is wont to smile too much during the heat of battle, yet both talk of the other’s similar humour. And Murray, like Lendl before him, is not afraid of putting in the hard graft, playing the long game. It must have helped and reassured the Scot that the Czech man took time to peak, losing his first four Grand Slam finals just as Murray did, before going on to win eight of them in one of the longest and most successful careers in the Open era.
The hard graft will begin again in Florida very soon:
When we get down to the serious business of training, I know what to expect: Pain. The endurance sessions are the hardest ones because lifting weights isn’t that painful—you can either lift it or you can’t—whereas when you do an endurance session it depends how much you want to push yourself.
Most people would normally stop when they’re struggling to breathe but if you push yourself through that, you might feel horrible at the time but you’ll feel better once you get off the machine or the track. It’s pushing it that extra bit that makes all the difference.
But before the business of playing matches begins in earnest, Murray will enjoy one small indulgence that he has foregone for the last three years. The turnaround between the end-of-season finale has previously been a scant three to four weeks. Now with an extra fortnight, the Scot intends to go home for Christmas.
Come Boxing Day, however, the bags will be packed for his first competitive event in Abu Dhabi—that starts on 27 December. Then it’s the other side of the world to Brisbane for a 30 December start at one of the tournaments that heralds the arrival of the first Grand Slam of 2013—beginning on 14 January—the Australian Open. And so the cycle begins again.
Melbourne has been a happy hunting ground for Murray—he has twice been a finalist—but a lot has changed since he played one of the best matches of 2012 in losing to Djokovic in the semifinal. Indeed enough has changed to make him a justifiable favourite for the 2013 title.
As he said in London, before heading off to his non-holiday:
If you told me last year I’d be sitting in this position with the results I had this year, I would have agreed and signed up for that straightaway. I’m happy with the year and I’ll work really hard in December to get better.
One feels that Grand Slam No2 is not too far away.