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.

    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.”