Imagine what the reception will be like for Andy Murray when he first strides onto the green grass of Centre Court at Wimbledon.
A year ago, Murray became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the singles title at the tennis tournament the locals refer to simply as “The Championships,” ending a nation’s long wait and sparking talk of knighthood.
This year, Murray gets the defending champion’s honor of playing the fortnight’s first match on the most famous tennis court in the world. Seems safe to say that 15,000 or so of his closest friends will greet him with a full-throated roar.
“As the time gets nearer, and, you know, I get ready to play the first match on Monday, I’ll definitely … be excited about it,” Murray said. “I will be nervous. It (is) an experience; something I have never experienced before. Players have talked about it in the past, that it’s a great experience. But it can also be a nerve-racking one.”
As for whether Murray will be able to handle whatever jitters come along in his first trip back to the site of his most significant victory, his peers think he’ll be just fine.
“Murray is going to manage it well, you know,” said Roger Federer, who has won seven of his record 17 major championships at Wimbledon and is coming off a grass-court title at Halle, Germany, last weekend.
“As long as he’s mentally free – I think that’s what he needs to be right now,” Federer said.
The other 2013 singles champion at the All England Club, France’s Marion Bartoli, decided long ago not to try to defend her title, announcing her retirement less than six weeks after the Wimbledon final, at age 28. That actually fits in well with the quirky career of Bartoli, who certainly did things her way, right down to her two-fisted strokes for forehands, backhands and volleys.
While Murray’s baseline game is rather conventional by today’s standards, his coaching decisions have been groundbreaking. After parting in March with Ivan Lendl – whose hiring was followed by those of fellow past greats of the game Stefan Edberg (by Federer) and Boris Becker (by Novak Djokovic) – Murray picked former women’s No. 1 and two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo as a replacement this month.
“All I’m interested in is to be able to help him (reach) his goals,” Mauresmo said. “That’s about it.”
Murray, who grew up in Dunblane, Scotland, has made plain that those aims are primarily about winning more Grand Slam trophies.
He earned his first at the 2012 U.S. Open, shortly after winning a gold medal at the London Olympics. Those triumphs both followed his loss to Federer at Wimbledon that year, when Murray was Britain’s first male finalist since 1938.
He went a step further in 2013, beating Djokovic in straight sets in the final to end the 77-year drought. And so while the ongoing World Cup and Scotland’s vote in September about whether to become independent and break away from Britain – Murray has steadfastly avoided weighing in on that one – will be popular topics of conversation around London this summer, the attention on “Our Andy” figures to be rather strong.
“Anytime you taste what it feels like to win it once, you obviously want to win it again. So there’s an element of pressure you put on yourself, for starters, because you sort of want to see what that feels like at least one more time,” said ESPN analyst John McEnroe, who won Wimbledon three times in the 1980s. “From that standpoint, he’s going to be feeling pressure. Clearly now once people know he can do it, they’re going to think he should do it again.”
Murray had a slow start to the year, coming off back surgery, and he hasn’t reached a final anywhere since Wimbledon 50 weeks ago.
But he showed he’s nearing his way back to peak form by getting to the semifinals at the French Open this month.
Performing that well on clay would seem to bode well for what he can do on the grass at Wimbledon.
“I expect to play well there. I’m really looking forward to going back. I think it will give me a lot of positive energy,” Murray said. “I’m glad I’m back playing to a level that was able to get me through to the last stage of Slams. I just need that extra few percent so that I can give myself a chance to try and win them again.”
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich