I really enjoyed watching the recent Australian Open Men’s final, so I was interested to read on Wednesday (Feb 18) that Andy Murray has handwritten motivations he sometimes reviews while on court.
Photography: By johnwnguyen (Flickr: DSC_4111.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The Scot, like many British sports stars, seems to split opinion like marmite.
We know all about the women in his life: his coach, his mother and his fiancé, and we’re all only too well aware of the expectation placed on his shoulders since a young age. But what about the man behind the gruff exterior?
I’ve always been a fan of Novak Djokovic myself, and I remember particularly well a TV panel on BBC a number of years ago during which the Serb was asked why he thought he had done so well in comparison to his rival (before the latter had won any Grand Slam title).
Djokovic’s answer was unexpected, and very real. He simply said that he knew by doing well in tennis, he could ensure his family had food on the table and he would be able to look after them. He wasn’t being anyway disrespectful to anyone – it’s just that his reality was very different from Murray’s.
Novak has since gone on to prove himself to be the talent we all thought was possible and, in between, Murray has collected two Grand Slam titles of his own. Both men are also playing in the era of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, so it’s no easy feat!
When the 27-year-old first appeared on tour, Tim Henman was still carrying British hopes. Murray seemed physically and emotionally frail at times, and it was hard to know whether he was capable of overcoming the challenges.
He worked exceptionally hard, of course, but it was only after hiring tennis legend Ivan Lendl as his coach in 2011, that real progress was finally made. Olympic gold and a US Open title in 2012 signalled a breakthrough, and he backed it up with a much longed-for Wimbledon crown the following year.
Fast forward to this year’s final in Australia then, where everyone predicted a tight contest.
Murray’s physical fitness and strength has improved immeasurably since those initial final appearances in Melbourne in 2010 (v Roger Federer) and 2011 (v Djokovic).
His mental ability, so often a weakness, has also been worked on. Djokovic, we could see, was also not quite on the boil – so could there be an upset we wondered?
When Murray looks back at the match, he’ll realise that he managed to get his opponent on the ropes on more than one occasion; he failed, however, to deliver the knockout punch on a couple of occasions.
Djokovic produced some sublime tennis at stages, but though Murray literally had him physically wobbling around the court at one point, he couldn’t capitalise on those handful of points that would have made a crucial difference on the night.
At the highest level of sport, inches make all the difference. We saw Djokovic suffer physically for the first time in many years and haul himself through several games when it appeared his hopes could be derailed by injury. There was chat online and from the commentary team that the Serb could be faking it, but anyone who participates in sport will tell you that you just have to push through those horrible moments when your body is ready to give up, but your mind has other ideas.
Murray, too, had to fight his own demons – one of the reasons he brought Amélie Mauresmo on board – and though he didn’t succeed on this particular occasion, he can stand over his efforts.
Bottom line: we could all benefit from drawing up our own motivation list and reciting it to ourselves… even if we leave off the line about sticking to the baseline!