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'Djokovic knew that Murray was not the same person'

Novak Djokovic serves to Andy Murray in their Olympic semi-final.
by Alexandra Willis
Friday 14 September 2012

In the first of a regular series with Annabel Croft, the co-host of Live @ Wimbledon, she gives Wimbledon.com her analysis of Andy Murray's US Open victory...

What has been your perception of Andy Murray over the last few months?
"I always look at body language, expressions, and there was definitely a different feel about him, certainly after Wimbledon. When he went into the Olympics I’ve never seen him hit the ball that well, and also his whole demeanour on the court, something had shifted. When we saw him at the Open, for the whole of the tournament his tennis was very in and out, but he produced and found his best tennis to win it. But there was this relaxed sense about how he was conducting himself off the court, he was relaxed, chatty. He was using our green room quite a lot, often in there hanging out, just being really normal, and I just sensed a completely different feeling about him, he was really at ease, I think it was noticeable." 

Do you think the public reaction has made a difference?
"I got the feeling that when he broke down in tears on the court at Wimbledon, something released in him, he connected more with the people. I think he’s appeared not to care what anyone thought of him, I’ll behave the way I can behave, I’ll just let my tennis do the talking. But there was a feeling that he liked himself a lot more. I think it took his breath away that people responded so positively to his emotion on the court, he felt much more connected with people, whereas in the past he knows that he wasn’t likeable, he’d be the first to admit that. But something shifted, there’s no question. He likes himself more and therefore it’s easier to like him."

Do you think people underestimate him as a person?
"Absolutely. I mean, for example, there was the way he thanked us for our broadcast during the US Open. How extraordinary was that. Our jaws were on the floor. But it was really sweet, it looked like it came from the heart. People will tune in whenever they do, but he knows that we sit there for 12 hours, we put in a lot of hard work to cover these events, week in, week out, for every match he plays.  There was this appreciation of what the broadcasters have done to bring his success to the public." 

How do you think his tennis has changed?
"I think he’s definitely worked on his second serve, which is less attackable, and there’s no question that he is much more aggressive off the forehand side, immediately after the serve or on the return, he is going much closer to the corners. Whereas in the past he would let the rally build, toy with the opponent and be a bit more passive, a bit like a cat with a mouse, but he’s way more aggressive now, he goes after the ball and starts to create things in the rally earlier, and he’s been playing much closer to the baseline, so it’s tactical things like that."

Clearly the relationship with Ivan Lendl has been a huge success...
"He likes Lendl. He brings a different dimension, he’s had a life, he’s been away from tennis for quite some time. He is as mad as a hatter, quite eccentrically mad in a fun way, and they obviously click. He loves that sense of humour. And then on the court, tactically Lendl has helped, but it's also the other stuff that Lendl says to him about handling situations, how he thinks in the Grand Slams and during the Grand Slams, clearly there’s a lot of stuff there that he really appreciates and clearly he respects him because he’s been there." 

What do you think made the difference in the final against Djokovic?
"Ultimately it became a really physical battle. It comes across more on a hard court, it takes them to a physical and mental extreme. You almost feel like they’re going to throw up at the end of a point, and they did it for nearly five hours. It’s hard to believe that the human body can take that. But in the fifth set Murray definitely found another gear, and emotionally and physically Djokovic was spent, it took all that energy to get back into it.

Djokovic was really nervous at the start, which surprised everybody, he’s got five Grand Slams. But I think he was well aware of what he was up against, he knew that Murray was not the same person he’d beaten before. Because of what he’d done at the Olympics, mentally he knew that this was a whole different Murray he was up against. That first set was so key. Murray I always felt looked like he was going to win that tie-break. He’s got such grit, so stubborn, such determination." 

Where does Murray go from here?
"I think he’s going to be really really difficult to play now. It will be really interesting with how he now copes with what he’s achieved, I think he’s going to go on the up, the confidence and at ease with himself will take him to a different stratosphere. Now there’s this respect, this aura about him. 

People had thought that he might never win a Grand Slam, that he’d always be close. He’s been in two finals in one year, then to win the gold medal and now the US Open, what a summer, he has taken peoples’ breath away. He admitted that he had had doubts about himself, he was worried about where his place would be in the game, and at least with the Olympic gold he felt like he’d be secured in the history of the game, and this has strengthened it even more." 

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