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Murray: 'It is the hardest thing in sport to keep getting to the latter stages'

AT 9.40 on a sunny Wimbledon morning, Andy Murray chirrupped a cheery good morning, hitched his huge tennis bag onto his shoulders and jogged towards the practice rounds.

GIVING HIM A FEW POINTERS: Amelie Mauresmo puts Andy Murray through his paces yesterday morning as the world No.5 and third seed prepares for a second round meeting with Blaz Rola at Wimbledon today. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
GIVING HIM A FEW POINTERS: Amelie Mauresmo puts Andy Murray through his paces yesterday morning as the world No.5 and third seed prepares for a second round meeting with Blaz Rola at Wimbledon today. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA

His demeanour matched the weather. The 27-year-old Scot has talked of nerves and stress at the home of tennis but those who follow him round the world believe the world No.5 is in a good place. His trot to Aorangi Park left the Centre Court in his trail but not for long.

In tennis terms, Murray is home and he feels comfortable. The hoopla surrounding his role as defending champion, and opening on Centre Court, dissipated on Monday amid a flurry of sure Murray shots with David Goffin being dismissed in three sets in a little over two hours.

Blaz Rola, the 23-year-old Slovenian, awaits today. Strong and eager, he will seek to make his mark after only a year on tour but he should not detain the Scot too long.

There is much that is familiar to Murray at Wimbledon. He is already both veteran and champion at SW19.

But there is one major change to his life at the All-England Club: he is no longer asked whether he can win Wimbledon and, after Monday, he can no longer be asked what it is like to go out on Centre Court to defend the title.

"I've been asked about it a lot over the last couple of months. Even if you feel fine about it in your head but if people ask you about it every single day it starts to become a bigger deal. Just like winning Wimbledon - every single day someone asks you.

"It gets bigger and bigger in your head. I enjoyed it on Centre Court against Goffin. It was nice. I'm glad I handled the situation well. It was a nice experience."

And will it feel like a normal Wimbledon from now on?

"I think so. I don't see too much changing between now and the end of the tournament," he said.

Murray is, of course, in the tournament for the long run. His record, famously, is that he has made the semi-finals at least since 2009. The burden of breaking that 77-year drought of a British male winner of the singles has lifted.

No-one could fully appreciate the stress that exerted on Murray physically and psychologically. He is the old Murray in terms of grass-court finesse but a new Murray in that Wimbledon offers him the opportunity for glory without carrying the burden of a doleful history. Murray met Shaquille O'Neal, the retired basketball player, after his match on Monday and he later reflected on longevity in sport. Miami Heat, Murray's favourite basketball team, lost the NBA finals after reaching the climax to the season for the fourth consecutive time.

Murray has his own degree of consistency at Wimbledon with three defeats in semi-finals, a loss in the final and then the championship win. The world No.5 described the constant demand to put himself in winning positions at majors as "tough", elaborating:

"It is the hardest thing in sport to keep getting to the latter stages of the major events and performing year in year out. Why? Because people keep improving, young players start coming through, you start to age a little bit and what you lose is it becomes harder to improve your game when you get older. You can make up for that with experience and understanding of how to deal with certain situations."

He added: "You have to look after yourself. But it is challenging to stay mentally focused and sharp. For me, what Rafa [Nadal] has done at the French Open might be the biggest achievement in all of sports.

"For an individual sport to win a tournament nine out of 10 years, a tournament that is so physical, it is mentally very draining as well. It's very, very impressive."

Murray plays in pain. His bipartite patella in his knee is a chronic injury. His back succumbed to the pressures of the sport with surgery accepted as the only solution. A regime of stretching has helped his rehabilitation. He seems content with the strength of his back.

His reference to young players coming through is a nod to the prediction that such as Grigor Dimitrov, the 23-year-old Bulgarian, are ready to challenge at a grand slam. Murray may face him as the journey progresses. But it is Rola who is his immediate concern.

"He's a big guy. He takes chances. He goes for his shots. He's going to do well, for sure, because he has weapons," said Murray.

"I saw him play his match against James [Ward] at the French Open and he's a tricky opponent with his style. He can generate power from the back of the court. He moves pretty well for a big guy too."

On Sunday, Murray sat on an empty Centre Court, discussing both tactics and expectations with Amelie Mauresmo, his new coach. "The main thing she told me in the build-up was to try and enjoy the moment of walking out as the defending champion," he said.

He did. He now prepares for the further rigours of defence. How will the Frenchwoman differ from Ivan Lendl in terms of scouting?

"For 10 years Ivan didn't watch much tennis except for the end of majors basically. He knew quite a lot about the higher-ranked guys, but he wouldn't have watched Rola play before. Amelie, I'm sure, will watch video and scout when she and Dani [Vallverdu] get the chance to go out and watch matches involving future opponents.

"She did it at Queen's. She went out and watched [Radek] Stepanek against [Bernard] Tomic. Everyone is different. Some people prefer to go to the court and watch matches live because you see different stuff.

"Some people prefer to watch video. She's obviously going to do some things differently to Ivan."

Murray, though, hopes that he will do what he always does: put himself in a position to win Wimbledon.

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