From the start Andy was des
The dossiers he compiled on players when a teenager showed Scot’s sharp tactical mind
To get a sense of what makes Andy Murray so incredibly special, we need to go right back to the beginning. I will never forget talking to his mother Judy, and her telling me a story about Andy as a young teenager trying to make it as a junior player. Andy, she told me, was already such a voracious student of the game that he would write detailed dossiers on individual players and outline what tactics would be needed to beat them. One on former world No1 Marat Safin particularly stood out in her mind.
This meticulous attention to detail and problem-solving ability turned out to be two of Murray’s greatest assets. He has always had that passion and interest to follow the game, from when he was writing those reports for his mother to the present day. He still obsessively follows tennis at all levels, even Futures, Challengers and Juniors – anything he can get his hands on.
Maybe in part because of how much he watches, he has this amazing ability to study players and dissect what they do and how to beat them. That is why the partnership with Ivan Lendl worked so well, because in their first session he would ask how to beat Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and they would talk about it for hours.
Working out precisely what he needed to do to win and then executing it perfectly became Murray’s calling card, with others, besides Judy, revealing to me that this is a long-standing quality. The former British doubles player Colin Fleming remembers Andy at under-12 level looping balls high into the air – “moon-balling” his opponents to death – because he knew he could beat everyone by doing that and he would find any solution required to win a match.
Once he turned professional, it became apparent that Andy could do everything on a tennis court and tactically would do everything in his power to win. If he needed to set up an impenetrable wall at the back of the court then that is what he had do. If he needed to bring his opponent in by using drop shots and short balls then that is what he would do. If he needed to get forward and be attacking he would. He knows what an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses are and how to use those to his advantage at the most high-pressure moments.
Eventually he became, for my money, the most astute player tactically of his generation. One match that stands out is the Wimbledon quarter-final against Fernando Verdasco in 2013, the year he won his first Wimbledon. Andy was two sets to love down but with Murray it is never over until the last point is done, and he came back to win in five, which was the catalyst for that breakthrough Wimbledon title.
Having been battered by Verdasco for the first two sets, Andy started to mix it up, read the serve better, take away his opponent’s rhythm. He got the slice into play, got the crowd into it. Knowing whether to make it a physical match, mental match, aggressive match is Andy’s great skill, and in five sets you have that luxury – and that is where you are defined as a player.
The only slight error Andy made with his strategy was not playing a bit more aggressively more often early in his career. We saw when he brought Lendl on board that he needed to do that to beat the best guys.
Away from his craftiness as a player, Andy also always had this remarkable drive and determination. Whenever there was an area he had to improve, he would find the right person and work with his team to get there. Look at how he transformed himself physically after those painful defeats early in his career by Arnaud Clement and David Nalbandian. Or how he turned to Lendl when he needed to make that final step mentally.
But underpinning everything was that something you cannot quite define: that X-factor. I realised Andy had this in spades when he was 17 and we played a set at the old Queen’s Club.
He just had this presence that I had only found with a couple of others that I had hit with at a young age. The others were Federer at 16 and Djokovic at 18. Andy had this tenacity on the court that was just that little bit more special. That is what’s got him where he is – that tenacity, that belief. He kept on breaking my serve, and I kept breaking back but I just kept thinking he was making me work so much, and his weight of shot was unbelievable, what he could do with the ball at such a young age. I thought he would go on and win majors.
In the end he has done that and more. Whenever he decides to retire he can look back and say: “Wow, this is what dreams are made of.” If you’d told him after he won the US Open juniors in 2004 that he would be a three-time major champion with two Olympic golds, world No1, Davis Cup winner etc, he would definitely have taken it – and he should be very proud.
Andy’s next challenge will come in managing the transition to retirement, but I am sure he will be fine. He has his management group with some of Britain’s best juniors, he can do media or coaching, the world is his oyster. But it is obviously heartbreaking when you have done this your whole life since four or five and suddenly you are in your 30s and the only thing you have known is gone. It will be a tough transition but he will manage it. For me, I threw myself into TV and did some coaching, but every player is different.
I hope that Murray can retire on his own terms and make it to Wimbledon. It would be wonderful if he can get that send-off.
Either way, when retirement comes, Andy will be remembered not just as our finestever tennis player but as one of the best sportsmen in British history. His achievements are absolutely exceptional, and if you want a role model for maximising, he maximised and then some.