“I love the sport,” Murray said when asked what compels him to continue competing at the age of 35 despite a surgically repaired hip with a metal implant. “This is the main reason why I came back and why I wanted to continue: because I love sports.”
Tennis gave Murray everything, he said in an extensive interview, wrapped around his neck with a towel as he sat on the metal bleachers of a court at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center after practice. The first round of the tournament is on Monday.
He remembers being a native of Glasgow, he traveled to America for the first time at the age of eleven. He has also visited South America. And at the age of fifteen, he moved to Spain to train at an academy.
“I absolutely loved it — getting to know different cultures, meeting new people, and having some independence,” Murray said.
Tennis introduced him to his future wife, Kim Sears, with whom he had four children – three girls and a boy from 1 to 6 years old.
He also brought in cups and victories he didn’t mention – among them, three Grand Slam titles, two Olympic singles golds and the distinction of being the only man to break the chokehold that Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have earned the world number one. Ranking 1 for 18 years, from February 2004 to February 2022. Murray also brought back the nation’s sporting pride to become The first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years In 2013 and again in 2016.
But recent years have been difficult, marked by injury and often debilitating pain.
After dropping out of the top 800 in 2018 and undergoing a second hip surgery in 2019, Murray faced the prospect of life without the sport he’s played since the age of three.
At 31, he wasn’t ready for it.
“Tennis has given me a wonderful life,” Murray said. “It also gave me a goal every day. There is a routine because you are always trying to improve yourself and improve something. I enjoy the process.”
So he committed to the long run, convinced that if he could overcome injuries, he would be able to play tennis great again.
At 6 feet 3 and 181 pounds, Murray is now much wiser about managing his body. His training—whether on the court or in the gym—is not about logging hours of ball strokes, strength combos and more about purposeful, purposeful work.
“Maybe I could have done more of that when I was younger,” he said.
As for his strengths, Murray has deft touch and a wide range of shots, including a double-handed backhand and set-piece, efficient serve, and a better return in his prime.
He has always been a clever tactician, the son of Scottish tennis coach Jodi Murray.
“In terms of tennis management, he’s fantastic,” said former player Brad Gilbert, who coached Murray in 2006-2007. “He has great knowledge of what he’s doing as a player and what his opponent is doing.”
To that base, Murray added data and analysis, noting his retired coach, Ivan Lendl, the former Czech-born, seeded 1, with that element in his game.
“He doesn’t talk much,” Murray said of Lindell, the eight-time Grand Slam champion with whom Murray won his three majors. “He gives very simple messages and doesn’t overcomplicate things. But he is interested in data and analysis, which is what interests me as well. He is a hard worker by nature and obviously knows how much hours and effort it takes to get to the top of the game.”
Murray has always considered serving and returning the most important shots of the match.
The latter was once a source of strength but has recently been disappointed. During Friday’s practice against Arlington native Dennis Kudla, he was the cause of great frustration and more than an expletive.
The problem, Murray then explained, is that as players have increased in size and strength over the past six years, the first serve has become more than just a weapon. Not surprisingly, the percentage of bounce games at the round level is down 2 or 3 percent from what it was in 2016.
In Murray’s case, he admitted, the drop was steep – 14 percent.
“If I can change that and I can improve on that, then, over time, it should make a huge difference to my results in court,” Murray said.
He brought a similar analytical tendency to expand his perspective on issues outside of court.
He wasn’t particularly outspoken as a rising star in his twenties, nor was he particularly knowledgeable. He said, “Quite frankly, I was in my tennis bubble and wasn’t really focused on anything else.”
Today, Murray is seen as a statesman in the game, willing to use his platform to advocate for causes he believes in, such as the need for domestic violence policy on the men’s tour, equal opportunity and pay for math, and race and ethnicity. Social justice and the importance of vaccines in the midst of a pandemic.
In March, Murray announced that he would donate his award for this year to UNICEF’s Program to Help the Children of Ukraine. Citi Open president Mark Ayn announced Saturday that the tournament will match the amount Murray won in Washington and create an online portal for tennis fans to contribute to.
“What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying,” Murray said. “You can never quite put yourself in their shoes; I know that. But it must be terrifying, heartbreaking, and very frightening. I wanted to do something, and the only thing I could probably do was give money to try and help children who had been displaced from their families.”
Murray traces his awakening to working with Amelie Mauresmo, the former top seed he appointed as his coach in 2014, and the doubts and double standards he faced as a result of hiring a coach.
“Amelie was number one in the world and a great player, and so many men she worked with [as coaches] Murray said. “But if you lose a match, no one will ask if it was because of a [male] Boss, while when I started working with Amelie and lost, the questions were “Does she feel like she’s the right person?” A lot of people on TV were saying, “Oh, he needs to change coaches.” Even the people within my team, I stopped working with them because it was a problem for them too.
“It made me realize there was a problem with it. And it was something that opened my eyes to other things. So I just felt, when I saw what I consider an injustice, I tried to talk about it.”
As he prepares to begin his grueling US Open preparations, Murray continues to push to get the best of himself and the team around him.
In search of more power and spin, he tried a new racket this year before concluding that acclimatization wasn’t worth it, so he went back to his familiar tire. He changed coaches in March, brought back Lendl, who would be in his box for the US Open, and added former player Mark Hilton to push him further as a travel coach.
“There is a coach out there to challenge you,” Murray said. “I enjoy the discussion. Even though I played 900 singles matches on the Tour and have been there for a very long time, I still feel like I can learn.”
He is making great strides. In March, he achieved his 700th career victory, which was among his goals. He rose from 135th in the world at the start of the season to 50th. His next goal is to improve his ranking enough to be ranked in the big leagues.
“There are a lot of people who feel I probably shouldn’t be playing,” Murray admitted. “But I love tennis, I love competition, and I feel like I can be even better than I am today. If I get to that point where I don’t feel like I can improve or things might go downhill, maybe this place I am in will change.”