Published on June 26th, 2014 | by Martin Aston0
John McEnroe on Andy Murray
In 2011, I interviewed former Wimbledon champion and current commentator John McEnroe and former British number one Tim Hemnan for Radio Times, discussing Andy Murray’s chances of winning the Wimbledon men’s trophy.
John McEnroe: “I know the saying; that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose until you lose. But the biggest lesson I learnt, that I can pass on to Andy, was that the most satisfaction I ever had as a person or a player was when I felt I was giving my absolute best. You learn about yourself as a person; how far you’re willing to go within yourself, to expose yourself and possibly embarrass yourself. That’s really tough when things aren’t going well, especially when you’re young, but it was more important than who won. Ironically, the match people most associate with me is the Wimbledon final with Bjorn [Borg] in 1980, which I lost, but the players, the press and the fans respected me more, and I have a lesson I can tell my kids. That it’s not ‘win at all costs’.
“But if Andy is to win a major, then he needs to needs to be more proactive, as he tends to be reactive. I think he’s finally realised how Nadal and Djokovic have worked to improve their offensive game. To get through one, if not two of the top guys, and win a grand slam, Andy needs to be more alert to the short ball and put his opponents on their heels instead of playing off his own heels.
“But it’s tough because the other guys seem so hungry still. Andy’s got the desire and intensity but so do the others. That’s what separates Nadal from everyone; he wants it more and tries harder than anyone. Though Nadal’s like a freak of nature! The only other player who I saw try as hard was Jimmy Connors. Focus is obviously critical when you’re playing the best because if you go through peaks and troughs to any degree, your opponent will make you pay. Against Federer at the French, for example, Djokovic lost it a bit in the second set, which cost him even more as he let Roger relax and not have to work as hard.
“What Andy mustn’t do is let his shoulders drop. That projects a negative message and hurts a player. The way Djokovic whipped Andy at this year’s Australian Open really blew Andy’s mind and he was so devastated that his energy levels plummeted over the next few months, like there was nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing. It was like Andy didn’t want to be on court at all. He was negative before he got there.
“I know this more than anyone. There were times where I’d get down on myself, and turn a positive into a negative. It was me against the world. Sometimes you need to fight yourself, to realise people are rallying behind you because of your effort and your game, and you can lose it quickly with a crowd, especially if they’re fickle like the French. A leopard can’t change his spots, but that doesn’t mean Andy can’t be more positive when things are going well, to let the crowd get behind him.The Andy Murray you see off the court is more of a personality, having fun and poking fun at himself, and one reason why I’ve enjoyed commentating is that people see that side of me much more than when I was playing tennis. The top guys prepare emotionally as much as prepare to serve to an opponent’s backhand, and I think Andy sometimes wastes energy. There are occasions where you’re so wound up, you vent and it can cost you. The game has become more physical than ever, so you have to be one hundred per cent and find the will to turn a negative into a positive, and quickly. Especially at the majors when you’re playing the best of five sets, against a super-fit guy like Nadal, or Federer who’s super-talented, or Djokovic, who’s both – and he’s the same age as Murray.
“But the fact Andy reached the semis at the French Open, and fought through spraining his ankle to win a match he should have lost, was a good step forward. Murray definitely had a better chance of winning Wimbledon than the French Open, but it will be hard for him to beat two of the top three. And he’ll also need a slice of luck.”
To break into the top three is a tough a challenge as anyone can have in tennis but Andy likes a challenge. He’ll probably have to beat two of them to win Wimbledon, but at home, on grass, I like his chances. He’s already been in two Wimbledon semis, and he’s been in three grand slam finals, and on two of those occasions he lost to Federer, the best player that’s ever lived in my opinion, so we should keep things in perspective.
But to win, Andy has to play consistently well, and strike the right balance between offensive and defensive, because he’s not been proactive enough, especially on grass. Leave the ball in the middle of the court and your opponent are too good, they hit the ball too hard. Defend when you have to, but try to dictate the point. He doesn‘t need to change his game much because he has all the shots. I don’t think Andy carries the burden of expectations of being British and winning a major. That’s all self-inflicted, and I never felt I was playing for anybody but myself and I don’t think Andy does either. He does get frustrated at times, but there’s no point in being someone you’re not; you have to let that frustration out, and then get back to the next point. Focussing is the most important thing. There’s no problem looking up at your team between points, but you have to be absolutely clear in what you want to achieve on the next point, and looking around makes that harder. There are many opinions about his coaching set-up. Andy wants different people coming in and I personally wouldn’t have wanted that, but Andy’s is only opinion that counts.