- Photography by Mr John Balsom
- Words by Mr Sam Knight
Mr Andy Murray is in da club. Well, not that sort of club, but the Queen's Club. Tucked behind the high red backs of London's well-to-do West Kensington mansion blocks sits this palace of racket sports. On this bright, spring-washed morning the scene is a familiar one: Jaguars and Bentleys; majestic old duffers in cricket jumpers; freckled boys with cut-glass accents; the intermittent sun bouncing hard off the club's Aegon Championship trophy that Mr Murray has won in 2009, 2011 and 2013, sits out on Centre Court. Everybody knows that he is here. The place bristles with it. Mowers rumble. The air fills with the sharp, green smells of another summer of promise, of expectancy. Two small children manage "Hello", and then just stand and stare at the man from Dunblane, Scotland in his prime, faamy leonine, with the best chance, surely, of ending Britain's agonising, heart-failing 78-year wait for a men's singles champion at Wimbled....
Oh, no. Wait. He did it. It actually happened. The page turned. Mr Murray, Britain's most talented, most sure-minded tennis player in generations, got to the final in 2012. Lost it. Got to the final again last year. Won it. Threw aside his racket and cap as if they contained the unreasonable, maddening hopes of 60 million people, and covered his face with his hands. And now he's walking across the grass, the Wimbledon defending champion at 26 years old, as if the force of gravity itself has lost some of its hold. That awful weight is gone.
Not that he talks about it that way. For one reason, Mr Murray has a strangely defective memory of last 7 July, on Centre Court. "Immediately after matches, it's amazing how many points in a match you can actually remember," he says. (Mr Murray has no problem recalling one of my favourite points of his: the mad scamper across court to pass a disbelieving Mr Richard Gasquet when he was two sets down at Wimbledon in 2008.)
"Yeah, I remember that point," he smiles, cracking his fingers. Mr Murray's momentum carried him on to the ledge at the edge of the court. He screamed. Britain screamed with him. He came back to win. "But after the Wimbledon final, I couldn't remember anything... People were asking me, 'What were you feeling after this point?' I was like, I couldn't remember anything at all." It's as if the force of his ? and our ? catharsis was just too great to take in. "I haven't spoken to anybody who might be able to explain it to me."
But the other, larger, reason Mr Murray doesn't speak of his new lightness is that he doesn't have to. His way is to be careful in conversation: amused, watchful. The bright hazel eyes wait for you to commit. "I don't necessarily feel like I need to prove myself any more," he says, after a US Open, after Olympic gold, after $30m in prize money.
And instead you see it in the way Mr Murray jokes and carries himself, the way he ribs MR PORTER's Style Director. "So," he says, slowly, "are people starting to wear socks with their flip-flops now?" The sudden, catlike grin. He is free. When he wears a hoodie now, Mr Murray smiles. And when he speaks about the turn of the seasons, the breaking of the British spring, it is as straightforward as it has ever been. "I always get pretty excited because the grass court season is only six or seven weeks away," he says. "It always comes around really quick now... It's gone fast as well."
After the Wimbledon final, I couldn't remember anything. People asked me, 'What were you feeling after this point?' I couldn't remember anything at all
Most things, most places, are gone fast. Mr Murray is on the road 40 weeks a year. He missed the opening of his own hotel, the Cromlix, outside his home town of Dunblane, the previous week, because he was playing a match in Italy. The professional tennis season finishes in mid-November, and starts again on 31 December. The closest he has to a base is Miami, where he spends a fragmented three months of the year. "It's a fun place to be, I like it," he says. The warm climate allows him to hit every day, to push himself. The city allows him to relax, to eat well ? epic quantities of sushi (Mr Murray is eating a maguro roll as he talks) ? to disappear with his long-term partner, Ms Kim Sears, and to follow sports. A couple of years ago, Mr Murray took a box at the Miami Heat with two other tennis pros, the doubles players, Messrs Jean-Julien Rojer and Ross Hutchins. The next day, Mr LeBron James joined the Heat.
But the kindred sport is boxing. Mr Murray first saw it up close when he was a talked-about junior, 14 or 15 years old, invited by his then-manager to a Mr Audley Harrison fight in Scotland. "I was just hooked," he says. "The adrenaline rush was sitting there and watching those guys, how hard they were hitting each other... I found it almost a little bit scary, but I liked it." The excitement still grips him. "I shake when I watch it. I leave the room." But the real connection is the deeper shock of recognition. Tennis players and boxers fight alone, and they scheme alone. "I have gone along to watch boxers train and I have been fascinated by the way they train and prepare for each one of their fights," he says. "The tactical side of it."
His affection for "the sweet science" seems to have influenced his play. "You can find offensive fighters, and defensive fighters. There are counter-punchers, there are left handers, there are right handers. Some guys have a great defence, some guys don't. You have to be able to adjust your tactics to a different opponent, and the mental toughness that they have is right up there..."
Now that I know I can win those tournaments, I would like to do it again. I would like to try to win more
He talks, and it's easy to identify Mr Murray straight away in his boxer's taxonomy: the classic counter-puncher. The one who will wait and wait. The one you never see coming. The defence that springs. And he happily embraces his art. Life, like sport, isn't all about attacking. "People don't really talk about it that much, but you need to be able to defend," he says. "That's the most important thing in any sport. Most of the teams or the people that are the best, they are fantastic defensively... They can exploit the weaknesses in the opponent."
It's why the role of defending champion suits Mr Murray so well. And after more than a decade of the most intense public scrutiny, it is a label that applies beyond tennis. He is made to withstand, to hang in there, to wait for your mistake.
It won't be easy. Mr Murray had back surgery last September, and is still feeling his way back to the top of his game. But he is also operating under different pressures now. Purer. More concentrated. All his own. "One thing that people don't always understand is that I was obviously put under so much pressure to win Wimbledon. But I also put a lot, a lot, of pressure on myself and expect a lot of myself. And that is something that has been heightened, I guess." The weight has gone, but the hunger remains. "Now that I know I can win those tournaments, I would like to do it again. I would like to try to win more. I'm sure the closer it gets, I will definitely start to feel a little bit differently about it," he says. Then Mr Murray pauses, weighs his words. The eyes glimmer. "When you're defending champion you go and you open Centre Court," he says. The summer looms. "I am looking forward to that."
Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER