Thursday, June 23, 2005
Updated: June 24, 12:40 PM ET
Murray is the new British hope
By Wayne Drehs
WIMBLEDON, England His face is still fresh. His words are still innocent. No PR agency has pulled him aside, promised a truckload of cash and programmed him with the words he should and shouldn't say.
So when 18-year-old Andy Murray stepped into a press conference an hour after the greatest match of his life, defeating a player ranked 299 spots higher than him and restoring hope of a British future at Wimbledon, he told it like it is.
How far can he go in his next match? How long can he ride the emotional wave as the only British player still alive in the tournament?
"I'll lose my next match," he said. "If I play against [David] Nalbandian, he's Top 10 in the world, he's been to a Wimbledon final," Murray said. "I've won two matches at Wimbledon, two matches at Queens and I'm only 18. I'm not expecting to win my next match."
Truth be told, that will be fine with the Brits. They don't need him on Saturday as much as they needed him Friday. The moment 30-year-old British hopeful Tim Henman walked off Centre Court a second-round loser for the first time in a decade, Murray walked on Court 1 and sent a simple message to every Brit from Scotland to Wales: Stop crying in your Pimm's. There's still some British tennis to look forward to.
While Henman sat in the media center and fielded questions about whether he plans to quit and whether the pressure for him to win is simply too great to handle, Murray was putting the finishing touches on his 6-4 victory in the first set.
And one can only imagine the headlines in the British tabloids come Friday morning:
The King is Dead, Long Live the King.
"I watched the end of Tim's fifth set," Murray said. "And I really wanted to win to keep the Brits going. It wouldn't have been so good for the support if there were no one left. But I think I did my job pretty well."
Indeed he did, considering he's the second-youngest competitor in the tournament, and woke up Thursday morning with a vicious stomachache after eating his mom's chicken curry for dinner.
Before this week, Murray had won a grand total of two ATP-level matches. Now he's doubled that number. At Wimbledon. His is the type of personality, the type of story that sports fans rally around. Regardless of country. Regardless of sport.
Thursday, he almost instantly energized the deflated 10,000-plus in attendance at Court 1. Ranked No. 312 in the world, playing a Queen's semifinalist ranked 299 spots higher, on a surface he admits he isn't truly all that fond of, in just the third ATP-level tournament of his career, he drilled Radek Stepanek up and down the court, pumping his fists, waving his arms and yelling encouragement to the fans all along the way.
It was exactly what the hometown fans needed. Hope. A belief that at least some day, some year, a British man might follow in the 1934, '35, and '36 footsteps of Fred Perry and win the men's single championship at Wimbledon.
"He's just so relaxed like he's competing in a junior's match in the second round against someone from Ecuador," said BBC commentator Boris Becker, who won Wimbledon at the age of 17. "That's his secret he's so relaxed and cool and poised inside. He controls the atmosphere."
At one point, Murray dropped a lob shot over Stepanek's head, placing it inches before the baseline. Even Stepanek could only applaud, tapping his hand against his racquet.
"Today he was the better player," Stepanek said. "I have to applaud his performance."
Stepanek tried to rattle the kid late in the third set, staring him down in between points, but Murray wouldn't have it. Not only did the gamesmanship not effect Murray, it motivated him even further.
"For me, that was the key moment," said Murray's manager, Octagon's Clifford Bloxham. "I think in the past, that would have gotten to him more. But he was like, 'I'm not intimidated. I know what you're trying to do. I'm not above that, but I can deal with it.' It was outstanding."
On a TV interview after the match, Murray, like any good teenager, referred to Stepanek as "stupid." He said he "didn't like him." When asked whether or not the Czech wished him "good luck" in the next round, the kid confessed that he wasn't listening to what Stepanek said, instead focusing his concentration on telling Stepanek, "Bad luck."
You have to love the honesty. It shines through every time the kid opens his mouth. What will it be like tomorrow, when he wakes up and realizes Great Britain's hopes rest on his shoulders?
"I don't know," he said. "I'll see when I wake up."
How did he win today?
"I didn't play that well," Murray said. "He pretty much gave me the match."
And what's it like, hanging in an environment where Roger Federer walks one way and Lleyton Hewitt another?
"Pretty embarrassing, actually," he said. "It doesn't feel like I belong around them yet. I'm still not even inside the top 200."
Not that anybody notices. Murray is the hot name, the feel-good story in the early rounds at Wimbledon. If only Murray could take better care of that stomach, he might start to feel good too.
"I can tell you, he's having tomato pasta tonight," Bloxham said. "Nice and bland."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.