Andy Murray thinks battle for No1 could add spice to Wimbledon

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Ready to compete: Andy Murray.

Andy Murray believes the fact the No1 ranking is up for grabs by four different players this Wimbledon could add an extra element of pressure or excitement this fortnight at the All England Club.

Murray could possibly lose his No1 ranking to one of three players – Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic – by the end of the tournament and must reach the final to keep his position at the top.

The defending champion, who said he was ready to compete despite a lingering hip problem, begins his campaign against Russian-born Kazakh lucky loser Alexander ‘Sasha’ Bublik on Monday.

Murray hasn’t won a match on grass in the build-up to this year’s Wimbledon, having lost his opening round to Jordan Thompson at the Queen’s Club.

Asked if the battle brewing for the No1 ranking could play a factor this fortnight, Murray said: “I think it certainly could do, maybe potentially more towards the end of the event, if there was quite a few players left in, and there’s maybe match-ups that really influence it.

“I don’t think loads of the guys – for me, I’m not thinking about that right now. That’s not what my focus is. But maybe if, you know, there’s a match later in the tournament where you know if you win, for me I would stay at world No1, or if I lose, maybe I would lose the ranking to one of the other guys. But not right now.”

Murray had to pull out of his two exhibition matches at Hurlingham Club due to a sore hip and it interrupted his preparations for Wimbledon.

“I’ve had hip problems since I was very young. It’s not something new to me. It’s just been very sore the last few weeks. It was giving me quite a lot of trouble moving to certain shots and getting into certain positions,” he explained.

“So that was why I needed to take the break, to try and give it a chance to settle down, calm down a bit. You know, spent a lot of time with my physio and doing some extra exercises in my warmup, strengthening exercises, a lot of stuff to try to loosen off that area. It’s felt much better the last few days.”


The Scot seemed upbeat about his current condition and feels confident he could get through seven matches in 14 days if he does end up reaching the final.

“I’ll be fine to play the event and play seven matches. I mean, providing things can happen obviously when you’re playing. I mean, players have got injured during tournaments,” said the 30-year-old, who confirmed on Sunday that he’s expecting a second child with his wife Kim.

“But as I am today, if I feel like I am today, I’d be delighted and have no issues getting through. You know, if necessary, I can take some anti-inflammatories if my hip flares up. Hopefully that’s not the case.”

Murray, who turned 30 in May, and will soon be a father of two, is aware of the fact that he is closer to the end of his career than he is to the start of it and he plans on savouring every opportunity until the day he retires.

It seems winning Slams at 35, like Roger Federer has done this year, is not necessarily something he plans on doing.

“You want to make the most of every tournament you play. I think you realise that a little bit more as you start to get older. I hope I’m still playing here for five, six, seven more years, if possible. But I don’t know obviously what’s going to happen,” said the three-time Grand Slam champion.

“I think just because of what Federer’s doing just now, which is incredibly rare, a lot of people think everyone is going to start doing that now. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case. I want to make sure I make the most of all of these chances that I have left.”

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Wimbledon: Bublik, 10 things you need to know about Murray's first round opponent

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Ready to put on a show: Sasha Bublik.

Andy Murray opens Centre Court action against one of the biggest characters of the ATP’s so-called NextGen group of players – Alexander ‘Sasha’ Bublik.

The 20-year-old St. Petersburg-native who now represents Kazakhstan is making his Wimbledon debut, as a lucky loser, and he’s not shying away from the big occasion.

Here are 10 things to know about the comedic 135th-ranked Bublik…

1 – He loves to put on a show

When asked by the BBC if he would find the Centre Court experience against Murray intimidating, he said: “It’s beautiful. Finally someone will see my trick shots. I do them every day and nobody sees them.”

2 – He loves an upset

Making his Grand Slam main draw debut, Bublik upset world No16 Lucas Pouille in four sets in the first round at the Australian Open last January. He then lost in round two to Malek Jaziri.

3 – He’s loves rap, especially Eminem

Bublik is really into the hip-hop scene in St. Petersburg, which he describes as the “base of hip-hop in Russia”. He says multiple rappers will be in his box during the Murray match, and he has two tattoos of Eminem lyrics on his arm: “You won’t break me, you just make me stronger than I was” and “Always be a leader and not a follower”.

4 – He represents Kazakhstan, but still lives in his native St. Petersburg

“I was Russian for all my life but they never supported me. I was always like second, third, fourth and they never supported me, so I was like ‘why should I play for you?’ For example if they’re giving some money and everything to the other players – it’s not even about the money, it’s about the support. You’re giving everything to one guy and nothing to the guy who’s just No3. So I got an offer and I said ‘okay, I’m going to leave’. I still live in St. Petersburg and I’ve got a map of the city on my arm,” says Bublik.

5 – He’s not big on watching the ‘Big Four’

“I follow fellow NextGen players but not the top guys, especially. They always win.” he says.”Even Rafa and Fed, they’re putting everything in the court, it’s not interesting. It’s interesting to see the highlights, how they’re finishing the ball, but when they’re rallying for like 45 shots, you’re sitting and you think ‘okay, can I quit tennis please?'”

6 – He’s a man without a plan

“I think that’s the key why I’m playing tennis at this level. It’s because my game is unpredictable. I don’t even know what I’m going to do,” says Bublik about his game.

7 – He liked James Blake growing up

“I never had idols in my life, so I never watched any of them playing. If you asked me how many titles Federer won, probably I will not know. When I was young, I watched James Blake, I just remember he had a great forehand,” says Bublik.

8 – He could have a future in broadcast

9 – He’s really good friends with WTA player Daria Kasatkina

Yooo, Dashhhhhh, let's try to create a new rumor ? The one with cousins has fallen. Any thoughts ? #Fail @kasatkina

A post shared by Alexander Bublik (@sashabublik) on

10 – He has one Challenger title

Bublik won his first and only Challenger title to date at the Morelos Open in Mexico last February.

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Kristina Mladenovic's column: The challenge of grass, Kvitova's return and tennis' baby boom

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LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN — We’re back at Wimbledon, dressed in classy all-whites and ready to go.

Grass can be tricky to play on but I feel that I’ve always had a good relationship with the surface.

I love it, I just love the challenge. I’m a positive person and I want to challenge myself and try to play well on every surface and not be that kind of player who thinks ‘okay, this is not my surface, it doesn’t matter, I can give up if it’s not working well’… I’m not like this, I try to be a perfectionist and try to always do better.

It’s different. Especially this year I could feel that I improved a lot my game overall, from a physical standpoint and tennis-wise and we could really notice that on the hard courts, even more on the clay courts.

And to switch to grass, it kind of limited the level, because of the surface obviously, points are way shorter, it’s faster, you can’t develop the same intensity, the same spin, the same footwork and running – it’s challenging.

I try to adjust my game differently because I can find solutions with more aggressive shots, flat shots, slices, a different style. The way I usually play, which involves me using my forehand a lot, maybe heavy rotation spin shots, that’s something I’m not going to do on grass. For example I’m not going to run around a lot of my backhands to play forehands. So it requires an adjustment for me but I’m just happy to try my best to do it.

PETRA’S BACK

I got to play Petra Kvitova in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago and I’m so glad she’s back on tour.

I was horrified to hear what happened to her back in December and of course we all sent her the warmest support ever, because it’s something you don’t wish on anyone, even your worst enemy, and Petra is actually one of the nicest girls on tour.

She’s a big champion but is also – which is the most important thing – a nice person. What happened was heartbreaking and we were all in doubt about the issue, if she was going to recover well and everything. So when she announced she will be back I was personally very happy about the great news because it’s nice to have a person like her, as a competitor back on court. I was very happy and proud to share the court with her.

I lost to Petra in Birmingham and she ended up winning the title in just her second tournament back. I wasn’t surprised to see her doing well, especially that her comeback – even if she played the French Open – but her comeback is on her best surface (grass).

Maybe she’s not in her best physical shape yet because she’s just coming back but you don’t really feel it on grass because it involves short points and it’s her best surface. I knew she could be dangerous, I was expecting a tough match.

Of course it’s always a bit surprising to see someone do that well so quickly but I’m very happy to see her back playing, it’s very important for the game.

BABY BOOM

Victoria Azarenka is also back and I saw her baby boy Leo the other day. Serena Williams also says she wants to return to the tour next year after having her baby, so we’ll have a few more mothers traveling on the circuit which I think is very interesting.

I still feel young and I’m not planning on having a baby yet. But this is a topic that has actually been bothering me.

I’m always impressed with athletes who become mothers and come back and play as well as they did before. I never had a baby so I don’t know the process, how it feels afterwards and if it’s difficult to come back or not. They’re saying that it’s not.

But it’s always a tricky thing for female athletes. It’s nice for those ATP players, they have their wives and kids next to them and they don’t have to think about stopping their careers, they can just keep on going.

For us at some point we are like, okay, do I go on with my career and then when I’m done, I’ll stop when I’m over 30 and I want to start a family, or do I take a break at age 24, 27, 30 and go have babies? Because tennis isn’t everything. Of course it’s a lot, at the moment it’s all my life, from childhood, through my teenage years, until now, but the sporting career doesn’t last forever, there is life as well, which is probably even more important.

This is something you have to think about, and of course women have to think about it way more than the men but I also guess it comes with the flow, with the timing, with your situation in life, if you have a partner or not, we will see. Everybody has their different view, on life, on goals, on timing…

SASHA THE ENTERTAINER

For now, I’m just going to stick to focusing on Wimbledon. On Monday, Andy Murray will open the action on Centre Court against Alexander ‘Sasha’ Bublik, who is actually a friend of mine.

This guy is just hilarious. He’s a very funny guy, he’s full of energy, he enjoys life, he’s very friendly, he’s just an up-and-coming player on tour and he’s not afraid to go up to any player and say hello.

He’s a very close friend of Daria Kasatkina, and I’m friends with her. He lives in St. Petersburg and he was there during that week when I won the tournament (last February) and Daria was there as well so that’s how I met him.

He’s easy-going and I’m also quite open, a few jokes here and there, we became friends. Now he’s part of the tour as well and I can see he’s doing a great job already, and he’s proving to be a big hit with the ATP who are recording videos with him quite a lot, asking him to play a journalist’s role by interviewing other players on camera. He has a great sense of humour and he can be a great player as well. He’s a character so hopefully he can entertain lots of fans and he has brilliant talent.

We had a bet before St. Petersburg about me winning the tournament and it happened and here the situation is quite crazy because he thought about leaving London after he lost in the final round of qualifying but then he found out he was a lucky loser.

To play Andy on Centre Court is something very special, especially here. It’s a huge mountain in front of him but for now he’s excited. I told him not to be too excited, then stuff could be different on court, but hopefully for him he can enjoy it and play some good tennis.

*This column was done via an interview with Kristina Mladenovic. It has been slightly edited for clarity.

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