INTERVIEW: Andy Murray no longer worried about public perception

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Murray is playing in the Dubai quarter-finals on Thursday.

There’s a famous quote that says: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Some attribute it to Oscar Wilde, others don’t. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a solid notion to live by yet for many people, particularly those in the public eye, it is not that simple to follow.

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For a long time, Andy Murray’s relationship with the public and media was a complicated one. And many times he was crucified for supposedly saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way. In reality, all he was trying to do was be himself.

The constant scrutiny drove him to stop doing that for a while and the Scot’s image became one of a closed-off character, some people judged it as being grumpy. But Murray’s personality could not be farther from that and a series of events helped the world see past the facade.

An emotional on-court speech after suffering a heart-breaking loss to Roger Federer at the Wimbledon final in 2012 showed a new side of him. He then won the Olympics on home soil, and ended Britain’s 77-year drought at Wimbledon the following year, rising above the mountain of pressure he felt at SW19 each season.

Fast-forward a couple of years and you get a Murray that is more outspoken than any of his contemporaries. He’s been discussing subjects that matter to him, be it in his interviews or on social media and while he is aware it could get him into trouble, he’s no longer preoccupied with the consequences.

An approach that is both refreshing and brave.

“To be honest, I’ve had, during my career, more criticism than most players,” Murray told Sport360° on the sidelines of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

“There’s no point in trying to change the way I am. There was a period when I wasn’t really being myself and I feel like life becomes much better when you try to be yourself and honest and say what you think. Because whatever you say, it’s a fact that you can’t please everybody.

“Even if you were to say Roger Federer is perfect there are still people that don’t like him, like Rafa’s (Nadal) fans don’t like Roger and Roger’s fans don’t like Rafa. You can’t please everyone.”

Murray’s one-liners on Twitter in recent months have been a revelation. Be it his thoughts on Scotland’s independence vote (he revealed the “negativity of the no campaign” had swayed his view), or his comments on hiring a female coach, the world No3 comes across as both honest and funny.

During last month’s Australian Open, he complained about the double standards that saw people applaud Nadal for overcoming cramps and dizzy spells to beat Tim Smyczek in a tough five-setter but criticise Murray for going through similar problems during a match against Robin Haase at the US Open last year.

“When I cramped and won in the US Open last year I was a ‘drama Queen, unfit, needs to see a shrink, faker’ weird,” Murray tweeted after Nadal’s match. Players don’t get less filtered than that.

“I would say that yes I try to be honest, as honest as you can be these days,” Murray explained in Dubai. “But then also sometimes you say stuff like the thing with Rafa’s match in Australia. People were coming up to me and telling me ‘why would you say that about Rafa?’

“I was actually saying it to defend myself, I wasn’t saying it to say there was nothing wrong with Rafa in his match with Smyczek. That’s the thing. People get offended so easily these days and you just have to kind of laugh it off because you can’t please everybody.”

When his fiancée Kim Sears was caught on camera cursing during Murray’s tense semi-final match against Tomas Berdych in Australia last month, the British No1 called out the press on fuelling the tension ahead of the encounter by over-discussing the fact that Murray’s ex-hitting partner – Dani Vallverdu – was now Berdych’s coach.

For the final, Sears wore a t-shirt that had “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” written across it, showing a sense of humour she clearly shares with her future husband.

“She went shopping the day before the final and walked past, I think it was H&M, and saw the t-shirt in the front of the store, and just said ‘I’ve got to buy that’,” Murray says.

“So she bought it and then she wore it the night before when all the team were around and everyone was obviously laughing about it and she says ‘well, I’m going to wear it tomorrow’.

“I didn’t think she was going to. Then an hour or so before the match when she arrived, the guys said to me she’s got the t-shirt on. I said ‘okay, that’s sort of fun’.”

In that final against Novak Djokovic, Murray was up a break in the third set after the pair had split the first two in an agonisingly long affair. The two-time grand slam champion then suffered a meltdown, getting angry on court and losing his cool as Djokovic ran away with 12 of the last 13 games to take the title.

Murray later said he got distracted by Djokovic, who looked to be cramping but then stormed back like a gladiator, and the Scot regrets that he let his opponent’s antics get to him.

The 27-year-old is no stranger to experiencing rage on court, which he typically directs at himself.

Asked if he ever gets that angry off the court, Murray says: “Never. I’ve been trying to learn a lot about how the brain and mind work in certain situations over the last couple of years, because when I do that on the court, I do that to myself. It’s the one thing that I don’t like about myself.

“I’d like to stop that and I’ve been working very hard. It’s one of those things that when it happens, after the match I’m quite down about it because I am not being good to myself.

“I feel like I work very hard and prepare well, do all the right things and I should cut myself some slack when I’m on the court.

“It does happen to athletes all the time but I have a better understanding of why it happens and I’m working on it. It’s something where in comparison to when I was younger, it’s much, much better.”

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DDF Tennis Diary: Novak Djokovic has all the moves, Roger Federer stays bright

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Djokovic dances with an entertainer at the Dubai Players' Party.

Novak Djokovic has developed quite an annual tradition here in Dubai, and no I’m not talking about his tendency to win the title at the Aviation Club.

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Every year, the Serb showcases his dancing skills alongside the belly dancer that entertains the crowds at the Players’ Party and this week, it appears he has gotten particularly good at it.

The world No1 danced the night away, until 1am to be exact, despite having a last 16 match the next day. Not that it hampered him in any way as he demolished Andrey Golubev to make the quarter-finals.

“Must have been something about last night that has influenced my performance today,” Djokovic laughed.

“It was a lot of dancing. I saw most of the players leave when I arrived, because I finished the match late. So I arrived at the party around 10:30pm and I thought we were in for a short night, but it was completely different and I enjoyed it very much.

“I think these players’ parties usually are not as much fun as here in Dubai. We always have some nice, fun entertainment during the night with magicians and music.

“The lady that was dancing last night was incredible and the journalists that were there last night were incredible,” he said between chuckles, referring to a couple of Serbian reporters who joined him in the fun.

“So I enjoyed it very much. I don’t know if 1am is a bit late. Well, my coach was there with me, so he definitely approved everything.

“Boris showed some very flexible, very agile moves on the dance floor to hip hop, with his hips that were replaced [in the] last couple of years, and then with his ankles, and looks like a young guy on the floor.”

The brighter, the better
Roger Federer has been known to make some bold fashion choices on the court and the outfit he’s been wearing this week in Dubai definitely falls under that category.

The Swiss has been playing in a neon orange t-shirt and grey shorts that have a goldish-bronze sparkly stripe on each side. A get up that has matched his regular night matches well so far.

“I liked it a lot. I actually told them to carry through with it,” said Federer about his shorts.

“I think it’s different. I have worn so many outfits over the years, and I am lucky enough to be able to change my outfit 10 to 12 times a year.

“How many times can you do a t-shirt and another coloured shirt? I was like ‘let’s mix it up a little bit’. I haven’t worn bright colours in some time and I asked if that could be an option.

“[When] they presented me the shorts, I was like ‘okay, let’s make sure it’s at the right place.’ I think it actually works okay. I like it, and I hope fans enjoy the energy that comes out of it a bit.”

The world No2 revealed he keeps three of every different outfit he wears. The rest he gives to charity, his family and his friends.

He missed a few in his early years though because “I didn’t think I’d have a career”.

Who would have thought it?

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Dubai DFTC: Federer, Djokovic and Murray safely through

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Roger Federer returns the ball to Fernando Verdasco during their match on day three of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Roger Federer escaped from trouble with a remarkable 20-point winning sequence which helped him into the quarter-finals of the Dubai Open in search of his seventh title on Wednesday.

The Grand Slam record-holder from Switzerland was 1-4 down in the first set against Fernando Verdasco, the former world number seven from Spain, before producing a faultless five games of attacking, much of it launched from the net, and going on to win 6-4, 6-3.

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Federer's stunning sequence began after Verdasco had held serve with the help of a startling badminton-style jump smash, concluding the game with an inside out forehand drive which was untouchable.

Federer next plays Richard Gasquet, the former top ten Frenchman.

Gasquet overcame Roberto Bautista Agut, the seventh seeded Spaniard, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6) recovering from 4-2 down in the final set for the second successive time (the first was against Andreas Seppi on Monday) and saving a match point at five points to six down in the final set tie-break.

World No1 Novak Djokovic returns the ball en route to victory against Andrey Golubev.

The other leading contender, Novak Djokovic, the world number one from Serbia, will also face an unseeded player after overwhelming Andrey Golubev, a Kazak ranked outside the top 100, by 6-1, 6-2.

It earned him a meeting with Marsel Ilhan, a qualifier from Turkey who won 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 against Feliciano Lopez, the sixth-seeded Spaniard who has twice been a finalist here.

Djokovic was in such good form he even agreed that it might have been the party performance he briefly gave with a belly dancer the previous night which might have influenced his excellent performance today.

Earlier Andy Murray, a potential semi-final opponent for Federer, won 6-0, 6-2 against Joao Sousa, the world number 50 from Portugal, his most emphatic result against a top 50 player for almost six years.

However the former Wimbledon and US Open champion now plays, according to Djokovic "definitely one of the most talented players right now the world."

That is the 18-year-old Borna Coric, a Croatian who reached the draw as a lucky loser was also a slightly lucky winner.

Or at least he had a slice of good fortune in surviving against Marcos Baghdatis, the former Australian Open finalist, who led 5-3 in in the final set before retiring with cramp at four points all in the final set tie-break

Earlier the man seeded to meet Djokovic in the semis, Tomas Berdych scored his 500th tour win, a 7-6 (9/7), 5-7, 6-0 success against Simone Bolelli of Italy, which made the Czech the eighth active player to achieve that landmark.

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