Andy Murray returns to Wimbledon on Monday as the reigning champion, the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to defend the title.
But the pressure to defend the title can’t match the pressure Murray felt in the years leading up to last year’s triumph that ended the nation’s collective angst at not having had its own countryman raise the championship trophy in 77 years.
When Murray defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in front of an adoring Centre Court crowd, Murray’s place in British sporting lore was set.
Murray, however, didn’t do it by himself. Part of the credit has to go to another former champion, Ivan Lendl, who converted Murray over the course of two years from a talented yet tormented player into a focused, determined Grand Slam champion. The pairing resulted in two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.
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Murray and Lendl parted ways this spring in what was described at the time as a mutual decision. It was later revealed in interviews with the British press, however, that the split was not Murray’s idea. He admitted to Simon Griggs of The Daily Telegraph to being wounded deeply that the two couldn’t come to a workable agreement.
Murray took his time finding a new coach, finally turning to another Wimbledon champion — French great Amelie Mauresmo, who won Wimbledon in 2006 and coached Marion Bartoli to last year’s Wimbledon title.
“Amelie is someone who is able to take all the stress away and make you feel extremely comfortable,” Bartoli told the BBC. “She prepares you for the worst and gives you some advice in order to deal with that, so when you start to face that situation you are ready. I really felt she was a tremendous help to me ... especially in the final and semifinal.”
The men’s game is also nothing new for Mauresmo, who briefly coached Frenchman Michael Llodra in 2010.
The choice of Mauresmo is a good one, according to 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert.
“Mauresmo’s very qualified obviously,” Evert said. “Amelie, she’s been a good coach before. I think she and Andy click well together. I like the line he said: ‘My mom, I’ve always had sort of the female influence around me concerning my tennis. Women listen more,’ which is probably true.
“But the great thing about Andy now is he still has that influence from Lendl. I think there was nobody better for him at that time, a couple years ago, than Lendl.”
Murray’s success with Lendl has prompted other top player to turn to former champions in an effort to find that winning edge.
Roger Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, has turned to Stefan Edberg, who has six majors to his credit. Boris Becker, another six-time champion, has joined Novak Djokovic’s team, which includes longtime coach Marian Vajda.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Former French Open champion Michael Chang has guided Kei Nishikori of Japan into the top 10, Marin Cilic is working with Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Gasquet has teamed up with Sergi Bruguera, and Ivan Ljubicic has been coaching Milos Raonic.
Former Wimbledon runner-up Mark Philippoussis likes the combination of Federer and Edberg, especially at Wimbledon.
“I believe [Federer] has one more Grand Slam in him, and his best chance is at Wimbledon,” Philippoussis told The Irish Times. “Working with Stefan Edberg leading up to this, Roger has been more attacking, and if he plays again like [he did] at the Australian Open, then I am calling him to win this one.”
Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic — John McEnroe: “Two guys that I think have made the biggest advances, who we’ve been waiting on the longest to potentially do some serious damage at a major event, and they’re starting to show that. That would be Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. Two guys, if they had a little bit of luck, things fell their way, they could make a real run in this tournament.” Dimitrov, a 23-year-old Bulgarian, arrives at Wimbledon ranked No. 13 having won his third tournament of the year last week at the grass-court tuneup at Queen’s Club. Raonic, a 23-year-old big-serving Canadian, is ranked No. 9 and has the game suited for Wimbledon. He’s consistently been a quarterfinalist all year.
Eugenie Bouchard — Chris Evert: “I think Bouchard has shown a lot of positives in the last six months as far as stepping up, not being afraid to play the top players, not to be afraid to play on a stadium court, dealing with the pressure so well. Especially after the French, she almost beat Maria Sharapova [in the semifinals]. She likes grass. She likes to step in and take the ball early. She has power. I think she’s one to watch.” The 20-year-old Canadian is ranked No. 13 and has reached the semifinals at both majors this year. She has won 10 of her last 11 matches and is on the verge of breaking into the top 10 for the first time in her career.
High and dry
Who needs a roof anyway? Weather conditions at Wimbledon are forecasts to be unseasonably warm and dry, at least for the first week of the tournament. Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob said the warmer weather will result in faster conditions due to lighter air and the ball moving through the air quicker. “When the weather is warm, especially for long stretches, the courts get harder and the balls bounce higher, creating a dynamic where the ball picks up speed upon contact with the court surface,” Gimelstob said.
Top-ranked Serena Williams hasn’t advanced past the fourth round at the year’s first two majors, but she’s a five-time Wimbledon champion and will be the favorite. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to see Sloane Stephens make an extended run, as well. But after Saturday, there are two others Americans for fans to keep an eye on — No. 47-ranked Madison Keys won her first WTA title at the Aegon International in Eastbourne, England, with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over No. 9 Angelique Kerber, and No. 69-ranked Coco Vandeweghe won her first WTA title at the Topshelf Open in the Netherlands with a 6-2, 6-4 grass-court win over Zheng Jie.
It will be a long time before top-ranked American John Isner’s name disappears from the Wimbledon record books after his legendary 11-hour, 5-minute, 183-game marathon against Nicolas Mahut in 2010, but his serve makes him a threat to make a deep run on grass. Seven other Americans are in the top 100, including two-time NCAA champion Steve Johnson, who reached the quarterfinals in grass-court tuneups in Nottingham, England, and Halle, Germany.
• It’s been 10 years since a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova shocked Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final. Sharapova is coming off her second French Open win.
• French Open runner-up Simona Halep has never gone past the second round at Wimbledon, but has seven WTA titles in the last 12 months.
• Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka is returning from a long layoff because of a foot injury. She has reached the semifinals at Wimbledon twice.
• The “Big Four” of men’s tennis — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — has won 35 of the past 37 majors.
The ESPN networks will provide 140 hours of live coverage at Wimbledon. For the first four days, ESPN will begin at 6 a.m. for coverage that transitions to ESPNEWS at 10:30 a.m., with ESPN2 simulcasting from 1-2:30 p.m. On Friday, ESPN will begin at 6 a.m. with Breakfast at Wimbledon. ABC (WFAA/8) will provide first-week highlights on Sunday when no play is scheduled. ESPN will air the men’s and women’s finals live at 8 a.m. July 5-6, and ABC will replay the finals at 2 p.m. ESPN3 will have 1,000 hours of live coverage online from up to nine courts.