Murray is coming out of his shell
WIMBLEDON, England -- For the British Empire, embracing the concept of Andy Murray has always been easier than loving the man himself.
He was a sour, surly Scotsman with a world of talent. He didn't go out of his way to endear himself to his public. He rarely made eye contact and never seemed comfortable in his own skin.
But as he climbed the world rankings, as he became the player this island nation longed for, Murray grew into his long limbs. He relaxed a bit and even revealed small slices of his personality.
When he lost to Roger Federer at last year's tournament here -- which made him 0-for-4 in major finals -- he famously cried on court and said, "I'm getting closer."
He had no idea how close he was.
And then he won the Olympic gold medal on that very same patch of grass at the All England Club and, about five weeks later, his first Grand Slam singles title, at the U.S. Open.
Here at Wimbledon, Murray has quietly gone about his tennis as all hell has broken loose in his bottom half of the draw.Seven-time champion Federer was stunned by No. 116-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round. Two-time champion Rafael Nadal was evicted in the first round, and the man who knocked him out, Belgian Steve Darcis, pulled out before Wednesday's second-round match with a shoulder injury. Earlier, top-ranked American John Isner was forced to retire with a left knee injury. Oh, and No. 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired with a pre-existing knee injury after losing the second of three sets to Ernests Gulbis.
Murray took to Court No. 1 in the late afternoon and handled Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei 6-3, 6-3, 7-5. It was his 13th consecutive win on grass going back to last year's Olympic Games.
"That's sport," Murray said of all the carnage around him. "You never know."
Two weeks ago at Queen's Club, Murray beat Marin Cilic in a rousing three-set final and then a charity doubles match.
All week long, Murray and Lendl joked about trying to hit each other. Sure enough, Murray cracked a swinging forehand rally and scored a direct hit. He ran around in a manic, comic celebration, showing more emotion than anyone had ever seen on a tennis court.
"The winning was irrelevant," Murray said afterward. "I was just happy to hit him. I hit it so, so clean."
Lendl, who has an acerbic wit, replied, "He will be lucky to make it until next Monday."
We are happy to report that he did.
Murray is only 26 years old, but his first-round win over Benjamin Becker gave him the most Grand Slam singles wins among British men, surpassing the great Fred Perry. Murray has one major goal remaining: become the first British man since Perry (1936) to win this championship. If that happens, Perry's bronze statue on the grounds here might soon have company.
No one on the journalistic side knows Murray better than Neil Harman, the talented tennis correspondent for the Times of London. He was one of five British scribes to visit Murray last December in Miami -- with the proviso that they take part in his workouts. And so, they all ran on the beach, lifted weights, did yoga and even tackled the Versaclimber.
"I think he just wanted to see us in pain," Harman said, smiling. "The humility, the humor everyone is seeing now is something a lot of us already knew. He's not daft; he knows he hasn't really done himself justice in the past. He's a decent, straightforward, sensitive guy."
In Harman's new book, "Court Confidential," Murray tells him, "I used to walk down the street and when people passed by, I'd look down. Now, I'm confident and I'll look them in the eye."
Murray has been confronting some other demons, too.
He was 8 years old when Thomas Hamilton, carrying four handguns, entered the Dunblane Primary School in March 1996. Hamilton killed 16 children and one adult before committing suicide. Murray survived, but until BBC aired a documentary about him, he hadn't talked about that day in public.
In "The Man Behind the Racquet," Sue Barker asked Murray about Dunblane. He was sitting on a couch in his Surrey mansion with his two border terriers, Rusty and Maggie May.
"You have no idea how tough something like this is," Murray told her.
And then he stopped and his eyes filled with tears. Nearly a minute later, he kissed one of the dogs, summoned a modicum of composure and struggled to continue.
The week after he won the gold medal, Murray and his mother returned to Dunblane, where a public ceremony was planned. The night before, Murray had asked his mother, "What if only two people come out?"
Although Dunblane's population is only 5,000, some 20,000 people turned out to see Murray's gold medal.
"It's nice," Murray said, "to do something that the town is proud of."