Wimbledon 2022: Andy Murray has quiet confidence six years on, but it's different for Emma Raducanu
Since he walked out of the All England Club as the newly crowned champion in 2016, he has never again been in a position to compete at full pelt in SW19. In 2017, his hip was in tatters and he hobbled out in the quarter-quarter finals. In 2019, he was easing his newly resurfaced hip back into life with a spot of mixed doubles with Serena Williams and last year his body and his game were refusing to cooperate and he lost in the third round. But this year is different.
Throughout those six, long, frustrating years, Murray has done everything in his power to get back to some semblance of his former playing self but for every step forward, he found himself being pushed another step back. What drove him on was the belief that if mind and body could come to a gentlemen’s agreement, there was still more than enough tennis left in him to challenge some of the best players in the world.
That moment appears to have arrived. Reunited with coach Ivan Lendl, the Scot missed most of the clay court swing to focus on his grass-court game. And once he got back on the match court, the results started to flow. A semi-final at the Surbiton Challenger followed by a run to the final in Stuttgart – a run that saw him dispose of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios – was all the proof he needed that his game was in full working order.
The abdominal strain that cost him the Stuttgart final (he had levelled the score to a set apiece and was just starting the deciding set when it went) appears to have healed well enough and he has been serving at almost full throttle in practice this week.
The nine grass court matches he played in 14 days before the recent injury have given him both confidence and a bit of momentum – now he just needs to find a way past James Duckworth on Monday (and he has beaten the Australian in both of their previous matches). His draw looks inviting and if all the stars align and if his abs, glutes and hammies behave themselves, a quarter-final with Novak Djokovic could be possible.
“I know the tennis is in there; I just need to bring it out during the event now,” he said. “Obviously having Ivan on my team helps. We've had a lot of success in the past. We know each other well. He still believes in me. There's not loads of coaches, people out there that have [believed] over this last period, and he has. That definitely helps me.”
Murray is one of 17 Britons flying the flag in the men’s and women’s singles and while the Scot is the established champion, all eyes will be on Emma Raducanu, the US Open champion and the No 10 seed. She is now carrying all the national expectations that Murray shouldered as a young man: she is the public’s pin-up champion elect.
Last year Raducanu reached the fourth round and then withdrew trailing 6-4, 3-0 to Ajla Tomljanovic. Officially, the problem was “breathing difficulties” but most took that to mean a panic attack. She was playing in her first Wimbledon; she had ripped through her first three rounds and suddenly she was on the front and back pages of every newspaper and leading the evening news on TV. It was all a bit much for an 18-year-old who was still waiting for her A-level results.
This year, she returns as a bona fide superstar, one dripping with endorsement contracts and clutching her New York trophy in her Tiffany-bejewelled hands. If the pressure was hard to bear last summer, this time around it could be stifling. She will begin her campaign on Centre Court on Monday – there is no hiding place there.
All of this is not helped by the fact that she is still learning the ropes of life on tour. With an ever-changing team around her and no time to devote to a solid training block to improve her fitness, she is always running uphill as she tries to live up to her celebrity billing. Add to that a growing list of aches, pains and niggles – she, too, is dealing with abdominal strain at the moment – and her results are suddenly explained: she has only won 10 matches since the US Open last September.
Playing Alison Van Uytvanck tomorrow will not help matters. The Belgian world No 46 has never got beyond the fourth round in SW19 but she came to London on the back of two WTA 125 titles and a quarter-final at the WTA 250 event in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It was a run of 13 matches and only one loss. Raducanu will need to be on her mettle to deal with that sort of form.
Meanwhile, quietly going about his business in his own understated way, Cam Norrie is playing his first Wimbledon as Britain’s No 1. As the world No 12 and the No 9 seed this week due to the banning of the Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev and the withdrawal of Alexander Zverev through injury, he is enjoying the new perks of being in the top seeds’ locker room – it is bigger, quieter and “cool” he says – but he knows that Murray is still the top British man in most people’s eyes.
“With everything Andy's done in his career, being a champion here, I think it's fair enough,” he said. “I'm not really thinking about that too much. Just trying to get wins on the court.”
His first goal is to get past the third round at a grand slam for the first time – and in order to do that, he needs to get the better of Pablo Andujar, the world No 100 from Spain, tomorrow. At the age of 36, Andujar has only won three grass court matches in his life.