Interview by l’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz
Q: Do you remember the first time you met Andy Murray?
It was during a Davis Cup tie in 2004, we were playing against Luxembourg. He had a knee injury, but he was there as a drawer of water. He was only 16 years old but he looked and listened everything, he was very interested in what was happening in training. He immersed himself in the atmosphere.
Q: And the first time you played him?
It was in La Manga, Spain, where we were training before a Davis Cup tie. Even though he was still very young and we were playing at a different level than his own, he had time, he was not under pressure and we knew then that he was going to be really good.
Q: You were one of his early role models, was he intimidated?
He had seen me play a lot and he was probably surprised how relaxed I was and how I liked to have fun off the court. We got along well, we made jokes, we played backgammon during rain interruptions. We had many things in common, and especially we both knew he was about to take over as British number one.
Q: He says you’ve been like a big brother for him, did you feel some kind of responsability towards him?
It was not really a responsibility, but I liked him. I thought that with my experience there were some areas in which I could help. When I arrived on the circuit, I trained a lot with Jeremy Bates, who was British No 1 at the time. Just to see him and be around him helped me to break barriers, to be accepted on the circuit. We trained a bit together, we went out to dinner and we talked about many different things.
Q: When you’re the British number one, you’re always on the spotlight. Which advice did you give him?
It was more related to life on the circuit, how to handle different aspects such as the media, sponsors, practices. On this stuff, the ball was always in his camp. When you’re British No. 1, you’re always on the spotlight, a lot of people want to give their opinion. In fact, I did not want to give him more reviews. I just wanted to give him some advices only when he asked me to.
Q: Do you remember the first official match you played against each other?
He beat me, but it should have been much easier for him that day (smile). It was the first round of the Basel tournament in 2005. He ended up beating me 7-6 in the third set. It was the kind of player I did not like playing. When I gave him a possibility, he was very good to pass me or force me to make a low volley and then pick me on the second ball with a great lob. I still try to remind him that I beat him in the last game we played together in 2006 in Bangkok (smile).
Q: How would you describe his personality?
He has a very dry sense of humor. He is stubborn. And he is honest.
Q: Like you before him, Andy has to face huge media and public pressure as British number one. Did you advise him on this subject too?
When he was young and began to attract media attention, I told him not to read everything that was written in the press and focus on the work he has to do. And to be honest, he did not (laughs). For a long time, he read what people wrote about him and he was influenced by it. That’s not a problem when you are on the rise and they write nice things. But when things start to go wrong, there are criticisms and he was frustrated. Sometimes he probably tried to fight against that. But it’s a learning process. Today he is much more mature, he understands how things work, he has the experience and manages it all very well.
Q: Why is it so hard to be the British No. 1?
There’s sometimes a disproportionate amount of attention. As Wimbledon is the largest and the world’s best tournament there is a lot of interest in the sport in the country, but we have very few good players. That’s the advantage you have in France, there is more depth while here there is huge attention on one player. It was me during my career, and today it’s Andy. It takes time getting used to it.
Q: How did it materialize at your time?
I realized it soon enough. It’s probably when I was disqualified at Wimbledon in 1995. I was the first player in 125 years to be disqualified at Wimbledon. And it was a very fast learning. I got destroyed by the media and I realized that I needed to have good results to make sure that people would not remember me just for that. I also realized that I had to get control of things that I could control. And everything that was said in the press, on TV, I could not control it. I could not help it, and from that day I very rarely read the newspapers.
Q: At one point in his career, when he could not win Grand Slam tournaments, Andy Murray was labeled as a loser, like you…
He did not mean to lose four Grand Slam finals in a row, but when we look at it closer, he lost against Federer and Djokovic, two of the best players of all time. And this 28-day period between the final of Wimbledon 2012 where he lost against Federer and showed so much emotion and winning the London Olympics on the same court against the same opponent, it was a turning point in his relationship with the British public. They really understood what it meant to him and how hard he worked.
Q: What was the role of Ivan Lendl to help him take that step?
Ivan played a huge role in Andy’s development of Andy and his success, and I believe that the symmetry between their careers was incredible. Lendl lost four Grand Slam finals before winning one and Andy was in the same boat. Lendl helped him keep believing he could win these big tournaments.
Q: You were here, in the commentary box, when he won in 2013
The expectation around the match was so huge, it was the seventh day of the seventh month, 77 years after Fred Perry last won… The excitement was huge and when the match took place, the seven first games lasted incredibly long time, in stifling heat. The first set was crucial. Andy never gave up, his tenacity and performance were absolutely incredible.
Q: How did you feel during this famous last game, when he served for the match?
Andy served from the side which was right outside our box. When he was 15-0, we said one done, just three more points, back to simple things. Then it was 30-0 and 40-0, he has three match points, it will be the right time! But this game kept going for another 10 or 12 minutes. The pressure, nervousness there was everywhere was unbearable.
Q: Andy Murray has a very complete game. Which are his strengths in your opinion?
He has many. His groundstrokes are fantastic. His athletic abilities are sometimes underestimated, the way he moves, his anticipation, the way he plays the game. I think the variety of his game is another strong point. He is able to change the pace a lot. He uses well his backhand slice. He is very comfortable at the net. His play at the net is underestimated. Above all, he is able to change the game in terms of style according to the situation and it is very rare. When you have only one style of play, it is easier to work on it and continue to improve your game, but it also makes you a bit limited. He has different aspects, more variety. It took him a little longer to understand his assets and use them, but nowadays we see the best of Andy Murray.
Q: And his weaknesses?
Fortunately, he still has plenty of them. When he plays badly, his first serve percentage decreases and his second serve is a bit vulnerable. The service is a crucial aspect, and that’s something he’s working on a lot. From the baseline, when he dictates play and he is aggressive, that is where he is at his best. When he gets on the defensive, he reacts, steps back and his opponent dictates the game, he must run and is struggling. He must find the balance between attack and defense, and recently he has found it.
Q: Does the Big Four still exist?
For me, yes, no doubt. Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic rankings inside the top 4 change, but when we look at how they dominated the biggest tournaments, all the Grand Slam semifinals they played, the number of Grand Slams and Masters 1000 won, they are still the players to beat. Djokovic is the head of this group today.
Q: You were one of the last serve and volley players. What do you think about the state of net play in today’s tennis?
There are no serve and volley players anymore, it’s sad but that’s the way the game has evolved. On hard courts, grass or indoor, the surfaces are slower, the conditions generally are slower. It is also about the way the players move. Returns of serve are better, faster and stronger, which reduce the opportunities to come to the net. If you come to the net today you must be even more effective than before. It is reflected in the way the players have changed at the junior level. Less coaches how to volley well. Many players today don’t have the correct grip position.
Q: Can you give us your top 5 of best players at the net?
Looking at the Top 100, I have trouble answering the question “who is the best volley player?” Some players volley quite well like Andy Murray, Feliciano Lopez and Radek Stepanek. But none of these players would be back in the Top 20 or Top 30 of best volley players some years ago. Will it come back? I doubt it.
Photo: Henman and Murray, 2013, Getty images
Andy Murray switched from adidas to Under Armour late last year, but until recently was still wearing adidas Barricade shoes. Andy now wears Under Armour from head-to-toe as he debuted a new UA shoe at Queen’s Club last week.
Here’s the kit he will be wearing at Wimbledon:
Winner of a record-tying fourth Queen’s Club title on Sunday, Murray said he feels he plays better than in 2013 when he won the Wimbledon title. Do you think he will win this year?
I spent a great few days at Roland Garros this year, I tried to share my experience live via my new instagram account @tennisbuzzlive, I hope you enjoyed it. Here’s a recap of my Roland Garros 2015 in 15 instagrams.
1- May 21st, my first day at Roland Garros 2015, the third day of the qualifyings. Few people in the alleys, a relaxed atmosphere, a different way to enjoy the Roland Garros stadium before the actual start of the tournament.
2- My first RG15 match: German hope Alexander Zverev vs Igor Sijsling.
3- Defending champion Maria Sharapova hard at work, I really enjoy watching players at practice, interacting with their teams and fans. More pics of Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros 2015.
Interview by Christine Thomas for l’Equipe, translated by Tennis Buzz:
Andy Murray was rubbing shoulders with Novak Djokovic during three sets and then…
His level is not good enough to beat an amazing Novak Djokovic who manages to raise his level in the important moments and also served much better than him. Andy, he was a bit shy when he led. These are the two things that made the difference before Andy collapsed a bit at the end of the match.
Do you feel frustrated?
No, not too much. In a short time, Andy has made quite significant progress. The little things are always the most difficult to pick. Andy spent two really good weeks compared to his level of last year. But to beat a world number one who, even when he is not at his best, is still on top, you have to keep working. When we look at where Andy is coming from (he had back surgery in September 2003) and where he is today, even if there are still steps to go before lifting a trophy, the gap is narrowing. I’m with him to get a title.
At Roland Garros?
Roland Garros and Wimbledon are close. We will see how it will happen on clay. Andy has good references on grass. But it was interesting for me to watch the match against Djokovic to see where Andy was compared to him. Novak alternates the amazing and the little less good. At times, you think that there is room, and then he closes the door. He adds something to his game. It’s interesting, I took notes!
Interview by Christine Thomas for l’Equipe, translated by Tennis Buzz:
I really got to know him in Miami
My role with Andy actually began last summer (late July) in Florida. Prior to Wimbledon, there were few things that came from me. I really got to know him in Miami. Because it is at work that you learn to know people, but also thanks to the time spent off-court. We could finally have little moments to discuss … only this winter (in Miami) we were able to really work on Andy’s tennis, with a training program designed by the physical trainer and I.
After the Masters, I called him several times
Andy overcame some hurdles since the start of our work together, but also since his back surgery (in September 2013). From a personal point of view, things really started at the Masters (in November). I called him several times after that, I told him what I thought of his game, the important steps he had climbed. I reviewed his game for the first time with him, and we talked together about his game plan. We agreed on everything, which was not a sure thing at the start.
For the first time, I let my instinct talk
I think one way or another, the split with Dani Vallverdu ( at the end of the season, Murray had worked with him since 2010) had to happen. I was not afraid but I was stressed, especially concerning the training program, the content of practice sessions … When we arrived in Miami, for the first time, I felt I was in charge. I’m not a coach in the traditional sense. But anyway, I had to do it. I racked my brain, I took a lot of advice and got inspired by the programming we have with the French Fed Cup team. But ultimately, I have mainly relied on my personal experience. For the first time I let my instinct talk and I soon found out that we were on the same wavelength. I took two weeks off during the holidays and Andy also came back home. Then, I went to Australia on January 3. I haven’t rest since Dani’s departure.
It’s a little sacrifice
It’s true that it’s a little sacrifice to travel, I was tired of travelling. I had thought long and hard before getting involved in this adventure. I had thought: “This is not the lifestyle I want to have anymore but it’s an ambitious project that suits me .. come on, do it!”
From the moment I take the decision, I have to accept what I don’t like, especially travels. But initially I had not planned to do as many weeks (due to the spilt with Vallverdu, who is now Tomas Berdych‘s coach). That’s why I want us to find someone to tournaments with. I can not do everything. Andy will be alone in February, because I’ll take some time off after the Fed Cup’s first round (in Italy next week)! I’ll be with Andy in March for Indian Wells and Miami. But then we gonna have the same problem. We really need to find someone.
I’m feeling more and more confident
During a tournament, my priority is to watch Andy’s next round opponent. Then I watch top seeds he could play further in the tournament, and possible outsiders. I also spend a lot of time watching videos. It’s interesting but that’s a lot of information to digest. It’s not the sexiest part of the job! Dani, he knows the players, I had a lot of catching up to do. But I’m feeling more and more confident. When we talk about opponents with Andy, I see that I’m not off mark! Otherwise, he would not forgive that, and it’s normal. He is demanding, so I have a lot of pressure.
He did not speak only to defend myself
I did not expect at all to what he said on the court. I was really touched, by his words and by his reaction at the end of the match. It is true that it was not easy for me to be at his side, to be scrutinized as I had not been for a while. Our duo was highly criticized. And I think Andy din’t say that only to defend me. It was also for him. It’s been six months since he had to continually justify his choice. He was keen to say, “Hey guys, I know very well what I do … Relax Now”.
I try not to miss one of his looks
I am delighted that he managed to reach a new Grand Slam final because has gone through difficult times. There is also a degree of personal satisfaction. It’s a bit presumptuous to say this but I think so far we prepared the matches well. It will be a big fight against Novak Djokovic. Andy lost each of their last meetings. He’ll have very few opportunities. He has to be enterprising. I have incorporated the fact that once in the box, I can not do anything for him. It’s very different from Fed Cup, where I am on court with the player. When Andy goes on court, I say: “Now you have the keys.” I like that he is independent. In the stands, I always ty to slip a word of encouagement, to not miss one of his looks. There are many.