Commentary

Surprisingly calm voyage thus far for Murray at All England Club

The once mercurial Andy Murray is no longer. A vastly different approach to life off the court has Scotland's latest hometown hero flourishing on it, writes Greg Garber.

Updated: June 28, 2008, 5:22 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

Andy MurrayClive Brunskill/Getty ImagesMurray, the last British man alive, matches his best Grand Slam performance by reaching Round 4.
WIMBLEDON, England -- Several thousand tennis spectators squeezed onto Henman Hill to watch their native son, Andy Murray, on the big electronic screen.

In recent years it's been a high-anxiety, tension convention when Tim Henman, the flagship of the British Empire, played on Centre Court at Wimbledon. But on Saturday it felt different.

Some people, warmed by the sun (and perhaps a few Pimm's), slept soundly. One woman scratched an entry diligently in her diary and others conversed quietly. Oddly, many of them were disconnected from the tennis playing out below.

It had a mellow, festival vibe.

Henman reached four semifinals here in his career, but he never won the championship at the All England Club. It has been 72 years since a British man, Fred Perry, lifted the title and even then you could often feel the frustration on Henman Hill during his inevitable defeats.

With Henman now retired and in the BBC commentary box, it's a new day in British tennis. Maybe these fans, afraid of another perpetual failure, are reluctant to invest too much passion just yet. Strangely enough, this seems to be Murray's approach, too.

And, so far, it's working.

The No. 12 seed, squashed Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2 in a match that some thought might go the other way. With the win Murray's into the fourth round, matching his best effort in three previous tries.

While Haas was melting down in a blue haze of German curse words, the once-mercurial Murray enjoyed a relatively calm voyage -- something new for the 21-year-old from Dunblane, Scotland.

"I've managed to deal with the tight situations," Murray said. "I didn't play well in the tiebreak, but I managed to get back in front after that. That might not have happened last year.

"I struggled to deal with all the expectations and pressure on me. I've got a lot of people that support me. I'm very comfortable out there on the court."

Henman too, is impressed by Murray.

"His whole attitude, his body language has been first class," Henman said.

Murray and Haas, who's 30, have all the shots. In fact, when they are healthy they are two of the pure, ball-strikers among ATP players. Their only two previous meetings, the past two years at Indian Wells (they split), produced some excellent tennis.

The shot of this match -- a significant one at that -- came early in the first set. Haas ran Murray off the court, but the Scot tracked the ball down and made a ridiculous stab backhand, with just enough slice to hook it inside the line. He broke Haas' serve for a 2-1 lead and Murray made it stand up for the rest of the set.

After squandering a break in the second set, Murray lost the second-set tiebreaker before winning the last two sets easily.

Tommy Haas
Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesHaas' career has been marred by myriad injuries that have caused him to play a limited schedule in the past few years.
For Haas, it was another cruel disappointment at Wimbledon. In 2001, he retired from his match with Wayne Black when he was shut down by an upset stomach. In 2007 he withdrew before his match with Roger Federer with a torn stomach muscle. The sequence that underlines Haas' injury-plagued career came here in 2005, when he stepped on a ball while warming up with Janko Tipsarevic. Haas sprained his right ankle, withdrew before the match and missed the next month.

Haas, who was once ranked No. 2 in the world, has had three major shoulder surgeries and missed time with a laundry list of injuries that includes: a broken left ankle, broken right ankle, bulging back disc, rotator cuff, elbow, wrist, pollen allergies, sinus infection and even food poisoning. In the summer of 2002, he missed six weeks after a motorcycle accident involving his parents; his father Peter was in a coma for two weeks.

The only adversity Murray has endured this first week at Wimbledon? He was locked out of his southwest London flat when his girlfriend Kim Sears and a friend took both sets of keys on a jaunt into central London.

Sears, by all accounts, has helped settle Murray down. There is also a new addition to the support team, Maggie -- after the Rod Stewart song, "Maggie May" -- the border terrier.

Murray has tweaked his approach to tennis and made a conscious effort to spend less time on the court. Less, in this case he said, has amounted to more.

"I think a lot of my frustrations in the past came from poor concentration," Murray said. "I think because I spent so much time at the courts, around tennis tournaments, my mind got a little bit tired of being on the court.

"And now, I'm spending less time around the courts. I'm spending less time watching tennis on TV and having more of a life outside tennis, which is what's for me making a difference.

"I'm enjoying myself when I'm on the court now, rather than it being a bit of a drag."

Murray is on the threshold of a new dimension. A win over Richard Gasquet would send him into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, in the tournament that means the most to him and this fiercely proud island nation.

"For me, there's not a huge difference between a fourth round and a quarterfinal in a Slam," he said, surprising -- maybe disappointing -- some members of the British press. "There's a big jump, from the position I'm in now to getting to the final. It's still sort of three matches away, and I'm going to have to beat some really tough players if I want to go on and do that.

"But, yeah, I'm not really thinking about reaching the quarterfinal. I'm more interested in making the final."

With that kind of forward thinking, Henman Hill might be renamed Murray Mound sooner than you might think.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.