Home Body

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 /by
AP Photos
AP Photos

MIAMI, Fla.—Given the lifestyle of the typical, successful ATP player, you wouldn’t expect one, least of all Andy Murray, to be a homebody. Murray, after all, was shipped off as a youth to Spain to develop his game, and by the time they applied the finishing touches he was entrenched in the itinerant ways of his profession.

But don’t ever underestimate the power of being able to sleep in your own bed, which—the way Murray tells it—accounts to some degree for the success he’s enjoying here at the Miami Masters.

Today Murray moved into the quarterfinals with a convincing 6-4, 6-1 win over Jo Wilfried Tsonga. That’s the good news. The bad news? The man he’s earned the right to meet is Novak Djokovic.

Granted, Murray is in the habit of beating Tsonga like a rented mule. The Scot has won eight straight matches over Tsonga, a streak that dates back to 2009. But at this point, Murray will take any life-affirming moment that comes his way. He’s struggled in recent weeks, and admits it with what for Murray almost passes for cheer: “Last couple of weeks have been difficult for obvious reasons. But, you know, hopefully I'm coming out the other side of that now and keep playing better.”

It may be no coincidence that Murray’s game is coming around at his home away from home, on the court where he’s leaked enough perspiration to raise the high-water mark in Biscayne Bay.

“I think it's got a huge impact on the way I feel,” Murray said of being in Miami, after he’d given up just 10 games in back-to-back matches that produced identical scores. “Just waking up in my own bed and going to the same restaurants and eating all the food that I eat for three, four months a year when I'm training. You know, if you're feeling a bit down, which I was a little bit when I got here. . . it makes a big difference coming back here.”

Murray added that a vivid, first-hand reminder of all the hours he’s spent training on the stadium court at Crandon Park, and in the gym that is part of the complex, also encourages him feel the urgency to win again, after he missed the entire fall due to minor surgery on his back.

“This is where I have built most of my professional career from,” he reminded us. “So, yeah, it makes a big difference coming back here. Mentally, I always feel pretty good here.”

It may also be inspirational for Murray to be in proximity with the coach with whom he just parted company, Ivan Lendl. A few nights ago, Lendl drove down from his home at Vero Beach to have dinner with Murray—and to break the news that he was no longer interested in having Murray as his ward.

This is the kind of news that the typical ward doesn’t take exceptionally well, and it’s exactly what you might expect from a “tough-love” proponent like Lendl. Murray himself is no dewy-eyed idealist, so he understood full well what Lendl was telling him. Murray sucked it up and made a commitment to move on, if not immediately.  

These two have not exactly washed their hands of each other. Lendl appeared as a bulwark for Murray during his third-round match with Feliciano Lopez, and word is he’ll make the trip again tomorrow. The implied support must be welcome for Murray, but then he’s a man of good character who’s made a point to maintain clean and amicable relations with his former enablers.

“Any person that I finished working with, I have got a great relationship with pretty much all of them,” he said. “You know, I would see all of them as friends and people that I could call. And if they wanted to call me, it’s the same thing.”

Lendl’s presence will be welcome tomorrow, because having to play Djokovic in the quarters is no bargain. And as defending champion, Murray is apt to feel a measure of pressure to hurdle this round, a condition that underscores just how important it is for him to make every possible effort to get back into the shelter of a high seeding—something he once enjoyed as a fixture in the “Big Four.”

Will it feel weird for Murray to meet Djokovic before the semifinal stage? This will be the earliest the two men have clashed since the summer of 2008 (discounting a round-robin meeting at the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals). Their head-to-head record, which Djokovic leads 11-8, is a testament to their mutual consistency.

“I don't know (if it’s weird),” Murray said. “It’s literally maybe one day earlier than normal, so I don't think it makes a huge difference.

“Normally, by the quarterfinals of a tournament, you're feeling pretty good and you've played enough tennis on the courts to feel comfortable. I'd say the only time it feels different playing against anyone is in a final, because you're playing for something. So there is normally a little bit more nerves and stress and pressure and stuff. So that would be the main difference.”

Murray would seem to have a home-court advantage in the imminent match. But Djokovic has won two of their three meetings in Miami, including their most recent in the 2012 final. The defending champ has his work cut out, and it’s difficult to gauge how much impact his sore hips will have on the match.

Against Tsonga today, Murray seemed to favor his left leg, and he occasionally made a fleeting gesture suggesting that he was trying to manage some pain in that area. He’s apparently been taking pain killers. He won’t be meeting Djokovic under the most favorable conditions, but then at least he’ll feel he’s among friends and family, in what passes these days for his home.

In fact, it’s gotten to the point where inquiring minds have sought to learn whether he still measures temperature on the European Celsius, rather than the American Fahrenheit, scale. This is a question which Murray fielded with an unexpected if amusing degree of sobriety.

“I started using Fahrenheit a bit more, but I don't know the conversion. If I speak to someone back home and they say, ‘How hot was it?’ and I say 'It's 85 today' and they say, ‘What is that (in Celsius)?’ I have absolutely no idea. You can find it pretty easy on Google.”

Tomorrow: Murray vs. Djokovic. You don’t have to Google that to recognize that it will be a hot ticket.

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