Why Andy Murray needs a new attitude
Peter Fleming knows a thing or two about working with temperamental tennis geniuses. He partnered John McEnroe for 10 years and even served as McEnroe's coach for a while. Fleming, a former elite player in both singles and doubles, has an interesting theory as it relates to a certain, fiery Scot, Andy Murray.
It's well known that Murray is prone to poor body language and agitation on court, but what if, apart from contributing to defeats, it's taking a toll on his health?
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"It could develop into a problem," said Fleming, a UK resident who commentates on many of Murray's matches for Sky Sports. "Injury problems can often stem from your mental outlook. That's from personal experience. I was a pretty intense guy when I was on tour, and it seemed like I was always injured or sick. Once I retired and took a more relaxed approach to life, I stopped getting hurt.
"Some of that was because I wasn't pushing myself to the edge, but some of it is if you're intense, generally your muscles are more prone to getting tweaked."
And Murray, who shoulders the expectation of not simply a country, but Kingdom, as Wimbledon begins Monday, has had his fair share of tweaked muscles.
When Murray tore his ankle tendon at the French Open, it was attributed to bad luck, yet he's sported a brace on his other ankle for years and struggled earlier on the clay with an elbow injury that necessitated a cortisone shot and dealt with a minor groin issue leading into Paris. Murray didn't seem to be 100 percent in defeats last year at the U.S. Open, and this year in the final of the Australian Open, a third major final in which he failed to win a set. In 2007, a serious wrist injury kept him out of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Now, Murray's essentially counterpunching style plays a role, too. If the longevity of Rafael Nadal's career is often debated for that reason, it shouldn't be much different with Murray, who's had injuries to more parts of his body than Nadal.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer's quiet efficiency helps the Swiss; Federer's calm demeanor surely hasn't hurt him over the years. He made the adjustment from racket-throwing teen.
"If you look at Roger, he has a low-key approach to a lot of things," Fleming said. "A lot of things don't seem to get under his skin. Therefore, his body is more relaxed and not as susceptible to getting hurt. If somehow Andy could figure out how to lighten up and relax a little, then yes, I think it might lessen his chances of getting injured in the future."
David Felgate, who used to coach the demure Tim Henman, combustible Nicole Vaidisova and even more combustible Xavier Malisse, wasn't as sold on the correlation, even if Vaidisova and Malisse missed chunks of time due to poor health. It was only when Henman approached old age, in tennis terms, that a back injury took its toll.
"Andy wears his heart on his sleeve, and I think sometimes players have injuries and aren't happy to talk about them," Felgate said in an interview. "Andy is happy to talk about them," he added, surely referring to Murray's lengthier-than-usual press conferences at Queen's last week, which focused on his ankle.
Felgate does agree that, at the age of 24, Murray must improve his attitude to aid him in overcoming his three biggest rivals, Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic. Off court, or at least in his press conferences, Murray is refreshingly open and honest, unlike Henman, and he's considered a nice guy who, for instance, hardly ever turns down an autograph request.
Djokovic's serve and more aggressive play contributed greatly to his recent 43-match winning streak, but the effect of his newfound, even-tempered on-court persona shouldn't be diminished.
Last month's French Open served as a continuation of his brooding. Murray couldn't help it, especially from his third-round match with Michael Berrer through his semifinal match with Nadal.
Murray berated himself, his team and at times had a real look of defeat even when leading, something 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova picked up on.
"He sulks too much," she told the Sunday Mercury, an English newspaper.
At Queen's, Wimbledon's most prestigious warm-up held in London, Murray was visibly annoyed upon missing a forehand in the semifinals against Andy Roddick. He was crushing Roddick at the time, eventually winning 6-3, 6-1. Murray smiled later in the encounter, although only when prompted by Roddick, who jokingly told Murray to "keep it social" as the American was being pummeled. Yet it was definite progress.
Perhaps unknowingly, Murray put two and two together.
"Didn't get flustered and played really good," Murray said.
In the third set of Monday's delayed final versus the charismatic Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the more familiar Murray returned. He smacked his racket against his shoes and shooed encouragement from his box after messing up a return.
Despite the show of petulance, he won in three sets to again allow British tennis fans to dream. Maybe this is the year Murray ends Great Britain's 75-year men's Grand Slam drought.
"Andy almost has this stubborn streak in him where he might be thinking, 'If these people tell me to do something, I'm going to prove them wrong,'" Fleming said. "That streak has served him well to a large degree. The question is, at what point, if you're 26, 27 and 28 and haven't won a major, do you say, 'It's down to plan B.' I don't necessarily think it needs to be an unbelievable turnaround. It just needs to be a change in perspective, really."
The result at Queen's predictably sent the hype machine into overdrive, particularly prior to the final. John Lloyd, formerly Murray's Davis Cup captain, called him "Federer like" against Roddick, and Andrew Castle, his fellow BBC analyst, gushed that if Murray continued to play as he did Saturday, he'd be hard to stop at Wimbledon.
What's more definite is that if Murray stops battling with himself, he'd benefit on at least one front.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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