Sunday night’s doubles victory at Queen’s Clubhas brought Andy Murray full circle. As he admitted in his autobiography, his first tennis memory was of playing doubles for the Dunblane third team at the age of eight.
“My partner was a 51-year-old architect called John Clark,” Murray recalled. “After a couple of points, I went up to him and said: ‘You’re standing a bit close to the net. You should stand back a bit because I want to serve and volley and you’ll get lobbed’.”
The story is a reminder of why Murray has slotted so neatly into the doubles format. As soon as he could hold a racket, his mother Judy prioritised competition over repetitive drilling. His tennis IQ was prodigious from an early age, as he befuddled junior hopefuls and adult clubbies with his drop-shot/lob combination.
“We didn’t have the red, orange and green ball age groups in those days,” recalled Judy Murray on Monday. “Just yellow ball, so Andy and Jamie could play in anything. There wasn’t so much formal and programmed coaching, but there was way more emphasis on playing the game, learning from your elders, working it out for yourself. You had to problem-solve.”
How useful those early puzzles proved last week, as Murray and Feliciano Lopez notched four straight victories on the lawns of Barons Court. At least 50 times a match, a doubles player must instinctively choose to volley short or deep, crosscourt or down the line. Murray kept finding the empty spaces on the court, like a chess grandmaster who always sees the most deadly move.
It was not as if Murray and Lopez had much time to prepare. In his Sunday-night interview on Amazon Prime, Murray admitted: “We were not telling each other where we were going to return, which a lot of the guys do, with the hands behind the back. The first point we played, I looked to see if Feli was doing it and he didn’t.”
Fortunately, as Murray acknowledged on Monday: “The return is the best part of my game. When I’m playing with my brother, for example, it allows him to be very active up at the net because I’m putting pressure on the guys that are serving.”
When returning serve, most players have a weak spot, but Murray can hurt you from anywhere. The two hooked forehand winners he produced at a crucial stage of the first round, scoring the only break of the match, turned out to be the difference between the teams.
“It’s a slight shame that Andy will be on the deuce side when he plays with Pierre-Hugues Herbert at Wimbledon,” Barry Cowan, the commentator, said. “Most of the break points tend to come on the ad side – which is where he was playing with Lopez, giving him the best chance to impose himself. But I still think that, with Andy’s unbelievable return and Herbert’s great doubles record, they have a real chance of winning the tournament.”
Murray will be back in action on Tuesday in Eastbourne, this time with the world’s fourth-ranked doubles player Marcelo Melo. “When we did the IPTL thing [an off-season exhibition in Asia] a few years ago, I was on the same team as him,” Murray said on Monday night. “Played a little bit of doubles. He’s good fun. Pretty laid-back guy.”
Murray also revealed that he had stayed out until 2am on Sunday night, although he stuck to Cokes. In this latest incarnation, he is determined to appreciate success.
“Before I won in Dubai [in February 2017], I said, ‘If I win the tournament, I want to do a sky dive’. All of my team rejected it and were, like, ‘no chance we’re doing that’. That turned out to be the last tournament I won, and I had a lot of health problems after that. I was saying to them, ‘You need to make sure you enjoy those moments, because you don’t know what’s around the corner’.”
What about a celebratory bungee jump off Beachy Head if he wins another title this week? “I’d do it if all my team were up for it, although I don’t know if my hip surgeon would be happy.”