Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray

From Andy Murray’s autobiography, Seventy-Seven

The atmosphere on finals day was nerve-tingling once again. So many were decked out in Union Jack colours, every spectator seemed to have a flag. I would imagine for Roger, the fact that the fans wee so obviously in my corner must have been a shock for him. He’s been on that court so many times and the British have great affection for him. The Wimbledon final was fairly split, but in the Olympics the support for me was amazing. When the crowd is behind you, it does make a huge difference – it makes you perform better, the opponent can feel intimidated, and when things are going well it is easier to carry that momentum through a match. Against Roger, this time, I didn’t let up at all.

The middle part of the match was, without doubt, the best I’d played in my career to that point. I’m not saying Roger played his best match, but the support of the crowd and the momentum from everyone else in every other sport doing so well seemed to carry me along. I just felt right the whole match.
I finished it with three big serves in a row. I think he only got a racket on a couple of them. I was serving gor the biggest title of my career and I served as well as I had ever done.

In the moments after a special match like this there are certain people you want to be with. Not everyone got to see what I was really like after Wimbledon, even though Kim and my mum and dad would have known how I was feeling. They had seen me lose so many of those matches before. That made me doubt myself – and maybe they doubted me as well – so it was great to be able to spend two or three seconds with them straight after I’d won. They knew all the work that went into the victory and how many tough losses there had been along the way. Out of all the things that happened to me in 2012, winning the gold medal was the proudest moment.

There had been four weeks to the day between one of the hardest moments of my life and one of the most fulfilling. Roger was involved in both of them and he made them special because he’s arguably the greatest of all time.

I was nervous before the final of the Olympics but I don’t remember feeling the same fear as before at Wimbledon. Maybe when I was playing on Centre Court before I felt I had to behave myself, because everyone was watching me and maybe I felt a bit self-conscious. People weren’t necessarily waiting for me to slip up but if I did, somebody would have something to say about it and everyone would have an opinion on what I had or hadn’t done. But after Wimbledon, people accepted my flaws – and I have loads of them. People seemed to see me for what I am and how I express myself, not judge me on what I should or shoukdn’t do.

I remember shaking my head when I was up there on the podium, ready to receive the medal. All of the guys in my team were there and the podiums were set up so that I was facing them. Seeing them all smiling, and everyone looking so proud, amde me feel wonderful. Yes, I was proud of myself, but when I saw everyone smiling and everyone singing the national anthem, I got a real sense of togetherness.
Maybe we don’t show enough of that in our country, and maybe the result is that sometimes we don’t get a sense that everyone can pull together for the same cause. When I saw Sir Chris Hoy holding the flag at the opening ceremony and he was completely blubbing the whole way around, I realised that you don’t get that in other competitions and that the London Olympics was really specials.

Check out the whole match here.

Tim Henman, Wimbledon 2001

This article is part of a new series: what if? … rewriting tennis history. Enjoy the read and fell free to leave a comment below.

If you used to watch tennis in the late 90’s you surely remember the Henmania taking over Wimbledon each summer:

“Henman made his name on Centre Court in 1996, when he defeated reigning French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and expectation has snowballed ever since. Fans wave, or paint Union Jacks on their face, and shout, ‘Come on, Tim!’ like he is one-man football team. Outside Centre Court hundreds more pile in front of a big screen on the side of Court One that has come to be known as Henman Hill.
Most fans don’t care how their hero performs the other fifty weeks of the year so long as he is up for it during Wimbledon fortnight. They believe the first six months of the season are spent leading up to it and the next six are spent recovering from it.
During those two weeks in the summer when Henmania sweeps through Britain, he gets more attention than David Beckham or the royal family, and most of them are in the Royal Box watching him. He becomes the focus of national hero worship as he progresses through the early rounds. Then he is beaten and derided as a serial loser, a choker, and becomes the butt of countless needless jokes.” [1]

Tim Henman reached Wimbledon semifinals 4 times (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) and had his best chance to reach the final in 2001 when he faced Goran Ivanisevic in the semifinals. Henman had come back from a set down to take the lead by 2 sets to 1 before rain stopped play. Henman ended up losing this match played over 3 days.

After Henman’s split with long time coach David Felgate in 2001, David Lloyd suggested Henman should copy Davis Cup teammate Greg Rusedski by working with a former player for specific tournaments only (Rusedski worked briefly with 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash). Former Davis Cup captain Lloyd is known to say really stupid things at times ( just before the Davis Cup final last year, he claimed Andy Murray doesn’t give enough back to British tennis), but his advice to Henman totally made sense back then:

“I always thought that someone like Edberg should have been brought in long ago to help the team for the big tournaments. He had a similar style to Tim and the same kind of problems, like his serve suddenly going and losing his forehand. But he learned how to control it.” [2]

“Edberg had such a similar game to Tim’s. Tim’s serve still tends to go on a big point, and he tends to hit his forehand too hard. Edberg was like that. He could have helped Tim, because, when you’re playing someone like Agassi or Hewitt who plays their ground shots so well, you’ve got to get a big percentage of your first serves in.” [2]

As a coach, Edberg would have helped Henman improve technically, but he would also have helped him handle the pressure he faced every year at Wimbledon.

Lleyton Hewitt: “British tennis is waiting for a Grand Slam champion – and Tim is the best chance going. In the locker room, everyone knows the pressure and expectations that Tim has to deal with at this time of the year. And everyone respects how well he deals with it. The way he handles the pressue and comes back and plays extremely well at Wimbledon year after year is a credit to him. He’d fully deserve it if he comes away with the Wimbledon crown one day. Even if he never wins Wimbledon, it’s pretty amazing what Tim has done there.” [1]

Despite his pairs’s praise, Henman was considered too soft, and his nerve and fighting spirit were forever being questioned. Early in his career, Stefan was also accused of lacking a burning desire to win. Long-time coach Tony Pickard did transform him into a player who had “fire in his belly”. He showed nerves of steel when he was down 3-1 to Becker in the fifth set of their ’90 Wimbledon final, and proved all his critics wrong during his epic ’92 US Open run (each time down a break in the fifth set he beat Richard Krajicek, Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang).
As a player Pickard did not have quite enough talent to match his self-assurance. He soon discovered that it was the other way round for Edberg.

“The biggest problem, was to get him to believe in himself. It took nearly three years.” [3]

In 2012, Andy Murray hired Ivan Lendl as a coach, and their partnership has been successful, to say the least: two Grand Slam titles (US Open 2012, Wimbledon 2013) and an Olympic gold medal, among other titles.

“Without a doubt, to have Ivan Lendl by my side was a real bonus”

acknowledged Andy Murray after his first Grand Slam victory at the US Open in 2012, nine months after the beginning of his collaboration with the 8-time Grand Slam champion. [4]

The Murray-Lendl collaboration started a new trend of former Grand Slam champions working with today’s top champions (Becker-Djokovic, Federer-Edberg, Chang-Nishikori…):

“Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change things in their game, said Sam Sumyk. This is the advantage of high level, this is not just the technique of a forehand or backhand, there are lots of parameters that come into play. The help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is on details. It can be in all areas: technique, way of thinking, or state of mind.” [4]

“I think I can really bring a little something. And maybe that little something can bring back Roger to where he was some time ago.”[4] said Edberg.

And indeed Edberg’s influence was the biggest reason behind Federer‘s regain of form in 2014 and 2015, encouraging him to shorten rallies, and take control of the net.

“Federer is a different, better player than he was at the start of this year, and a lot of the credit for that goes to that iconic exponent of the serve-and-volley game, Edberg.” [5]

So what do you think, would Edberg have brought that little something to Henman’s game to help him reach new heights and win Wimbledon?

What if Stefan Edberg had coached Tim Henman?

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Sources:
[1] From Tim Henman, England’s finest by Simon Felstein – published in 2006
[2] Lloyd: Henman should be converting ability into titles, BBC Sport, 10 April, 2001
[3] From Love Thirty, three decades of champions by Rex Bellamy – published in 1990. Read more here.
[4] From Tennis Magazine, April 2014. Read more here.
[5] The man behind Roger Federer’s success by Peter Bodo for ESPN. Read the article here.

Roger Federer

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1986: Boris Becker defeats Ivan Lendl, wins second Wimbledon title
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Wimbledon 1988: An era ends as Graf beats Navratilova
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion
Portrait of 2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg
Wimbledon 1990: Becker vs Edberg
1990: Martina Navatilova’s historic 9th Wimbledon title
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
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Andre Agassi: thanks to Wimbledon I realized my dreams
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1995: Tim Henman disqualified!
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1996: Richard Krajicek upsets Pete Sampras
Wimbledon 1996: a winning streak
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Roger Federer and Andy Murray, Wimbledon 2012

From Andy Murray‘s autobiography Seventy-Seven:

Roger Federer had beaten Novak Djokovic in the first semi-final. If I was to become the champion I would have to beat the greatest grass court player of all time.

I was nervous. I needed to win that match. I needed to win a Slam. And I really thought I had a chance. I felt so different to how I did before my first Grand Slam final, against Roger in the 2008 US Open. This time I felt like I was in a comfortable, settled place. I knew what I had to do. Mentally, I was prepared to win. I felt that I was ready.

I started well, breaking him in the first game and again at 4-4 to be able to serve for the first serve. I needed this set badly and I wasn’t nervous serving for it. I felt as good as I could possibly have done. 6-4.

In the second set, I had a couple of break points that I vividly recall. On one, I hit a cross-court passing shot which he volleyed behind me. The next, I went full-blooded for a backhand winner down the line. I could have hit it down the middle of the court, and that might have happened in the past, but I decided to go for the winner. I just missed it. Roger took the set 7-5.

We went off for rain a couple of games into the third set and they closed the roof. Roger came out more aggressive from there. His timing is so good: when there is no wind to disturb him, he strikes the ball superbly. I don’t think I played any worse, it was just that he played a little better. He was in his element.
At 3-3, I led 40-0 and he played a really good drop shot which I fell trying to reach. That stunned me a little. I think he could see that in my eyes. He got it back to deuce and piled on the pressure. I had to save five break points, but couldn’t save a sixth. He was ahead from that moment on, taking the set 6-3 and easing over the line 6-4 in the fourth.

I have seen loads of players crying in the locker rooms after games, and heard stories about people breaking down. Normally you can get off the court pretty much straight away so that you can do that in private. Not in major finals, though, and I knew when I was going up to be interviewed on court straight after the defeat to Roger it was going to be really hard.
When I went to speak, the crowd turned the volume up and I sensed they knew what I was feeling. They made so much noise I had to wait for them. Sue Barker started to ask a question, but I knew people hadn’t heard, so I ended up taking the microphone from her and just tried to say what I was feeling.
There was no time to think about what to say. I hadn’t pictured myself losing or worried about what I might say if I did. My mind was in turmoil and the words just came spilling out. In sport, the interviews are usually so choreographed, but this was totally spontaneous.

I was just pleased that in those few moments, people saw my true personality. I appreciate the support I get, I really do. It helps so much. In the past maybe i didn’t have everyone behind me, but that summer was the first time I really felt like the crowd were saying, ‘He is one of us’. They really, really wanted me to win, they understood me and how much it meant.

I apologised to Roger for reacting the way I did, but he said not to worry, it showed how much I cared. He is a great champion. I came away proud of what I had achieved. Although I was upset that I hadn’t won, there was no second-guessing myself thinking, ‘What if I had done that differently?’ I had gone for my shots, but for a set and a half at the end of the match, he just played brilliantly.

In the locker room, Ivan said he was proud of me too, and that I’d be better next time. I believed him, but it didn’t stop me having to endure one of the saddest nights of my life.

Roger Federer at practice, Roland Garros 2015

Roger Federer pulls out of Roland Garros:

Federer’s withdrawal means that Rafael Nadal will be the number 4 seed and he won’t meet Djokovic until the semifinals.

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