Monday, June 16, 2008 Updated: June 19, 6:56 AM ET
For better or worse, Murray rife with drama
By Ravi Ubha Special to ESPN.com
Andy Murray, right, has not lived up to the void left by fellow Brit Tim Henman.
There's never a dull moment when Andy Murray is around, so just imagine the fun fans can expect at Wimbledon.
Here's what's happened to Murray this year, in a nutshell: He was criticized by his own tennis-playing brother for dubiously skipping Great Britain's first world group encounter in five years, gave strong hints he'd lose early in an indoor tournament in the Netherlands -- which he did -- and clashed with Juan Martin del Potro at the Rome Masters, saying the young Argentine insulted his mother.
He persists with an unorthodox coaching set up after dumping the expensive and more accomplished Brad Gilbert late in 2007, and his temper still gets the better of him at times.
"Andy's always been a controversial sort of personality,'' was how fellow Brit Greg Rusedski put it.
To boot, Murray launched an autobiography on the eve of the grass-court season, taking a shot at the governing body of Great Britain, the LTA, that spent millions to hire Gilbert just for him, then pulled out of his quarterfinal at the Artois Championships on Friday because of a sprained right thumb, the latest in a long line of injuries.
Two weeks earlier, following his fourth-round exit at the French Open, the 21-year-old boldly proclaimed he could win the upcoming Wimbledon and thus become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to do so. Murray, to remind, has never reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal, unlike other young contemporaries Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is a week younger, while four-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal is a year older.
More pressure -- and scrutiny -- than ever before will be on Murray at Wimbledon due to the absence of Rusedski and Tim Henman, both retired. The gentlemanly Henman, incidentally, reportedly called his successor a "miserable git'' at a charity event in May.
"Yeah, there's pressure on you to do well, but when you actually get on the court, I haven't felt the pressure in the past and I don't plan on letting it affect me now,'' the 11th-ranked Scot told reporters. "I want to win Wimbledon. Everybody else wants me to win it as well, I'm sure. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well.''
Murray, described by Swedish great Mats Wilander as having the softest hands on the tour since John McEnroe, has done well in spurts in 2008. Blessed with an all-court game that includes solid returning and potentially one of the biggest first serves around -- as of last week, the first-serve percentage stood at 56 percent, almost outside the top 50 -- he toppled Roger Federer for the second straight time in Dubai and won titles in Doha, Qatar and Marseille, France.
Some called it sour grapes when Federer, speaking in the wake of the Dubai loss, insisted Murray needed to play more aggressive to achieve success against the better players, although others agreed.
Despite two titles this season, Andy Murray has had his share of controversy.
In his most recent Wimbledon appearance, in 2006, Murray dismantled two-time Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick in straight sets in the third round.
Louis Cayer, part of the new Murray team, said the wrist injury that kept Murray out of the French Open and Wimbledon last year came at the worst time. In five of the seven events before the injury, Murray reached at least the semis. He also took Nadal to five sets at the Australian Open.
"He can break on grass, and I think his serve is getting better,'' said Cayer, an LTA coach who still consults Murray when needed. "If he thinks, 'I won three rounds two years ago, and now I'm more rounded and mature,' then why not think he can win it? It's normal that he expects good things from himself.''
Thursday's thumb injury put a slight dampener on things. Murray, without his customary cap, got hurt when he dived near the net in anticipation of an Ernests Gulbis passing shot late in the first set. The ball never actually reached him, as a net court handed the point to the big-hitting Latvian. Murray received treatment on the ensuing changeover and continued.
Maybe he wished he didn't.
Later, well behind the baseline and trying to change direction on the slippery turf, he went down again, letting out a desperate yell. This time, his groin and neck needed attention from the trainer.
Murray, with primary coach Miles Maclagan among those watching from the stands, couldn't sign autographs and had a hard time picking up his water bottle at the conclusion. The next morning, he couldn't pick up his pillow.
He intends on competing at the Boodles Challenge in England later this week and getting in ample practice.
"I played on grass a lot in the past,'' Murray said Friday. "I'll try to get as much match practice in as possible, and I don't think it should be a problem for Wimbledon.''
Rusedski, part of the BBC commentary team at Wimbledon -- like Henman -- plans on watching Murray closely next week.
"It'll be interesting to see with this book how he performs,'' the 1997 U.S. Open finalist said. "That'll be the test. I've questioned his team, at times, whether they have the experience, but the proof is in the pudding. He seems happy with the people around him, so he's got to prove it to everybody now.''
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.