‘My daughter said: “Daddy, you lost again?!”‘: Andy Murray reveals chat with his five-year-old child after his brutal early Wimbledon exit has motivated him for another crack at Olympic glory
You could sense the energy-sapping effects of midsummer Tokyo in the brief time Andy Murray stopped on Thursday to discuss the tough defence of the Olympic tennis title he retained in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.
There’s a 91F heat to contend with, as well as the questions on his future which he did nothing to dispel when sharing the workings of his mind after the Centre Court rout by Denis Shapovalov, 21 days ago. He had never known a defeat like that in 70 matches at Wimbledon.
But an exchange he had with his five-year-old daughter, Sophia, after returning home from that brutal night on Centre Court, seems to have fortified him to pick up his rackets and head back out to the other side of the world.
Andy Murray faces a tough task to seal a remarkable third consecutive gold at the Olympics
‘When I got home, the day after my match, my daughter said to me: “Daddy, you’re home because you lost another tennis match?”’ Murray related. ‘I said: “Yeah, I did. But what do you do when you lose at something?” And she said: “You try and try again?” I was like: “Yeah, that’s what I want to do”.’
Yet there is also something about Murray and the Olympics which has put the 34-year-old on the cement surface of Ariake Park practice courts this week, while Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal stayed at home.
‘The Olympics has given me some of my best memories in my career,’ Murray said. ‘I guess within tennis circles, a Wimbledon title would be considered more important. But in that sort of wider sporting context — people that maybe don’t follow tennis; don’t know anything about tennis — I think pretty much everyone understands and knows what a gold medal is.
‘And that the Olympics are for me the biggest sporting event out there. So winning medals at an Olympic Games is a huge achievement and something that I’m very, very proud of. They sit right there next to the Wimbledon titles.’
Murray retained Olympic gold in Rio five years ago – having triumphed too in London in 2012
It’s a different dynamic this time, of course. Murray, unseeded, faces 20-year-old Canadian No 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who arrives here on a high after a strong grass court season that culminated in a first Grand Slam quarter-final appearance at SW19. He also easily defeated Murray at the US Open last year.
‘It’s going to be hard,’ Murray reflected. ‘But if you want to win medals, you’re going to have to beat top players and because of my ranking and stuff, I have to play higher ranked players earlier in the tournament. So mentally, I’ve prepared for that.’
There will be easier terrain if he can prevail — Argentine Facundo Bagnis or German Dominik Koepfer in the second round — though No 2 Daniil Medvedev potentially lurks beyond that.
Britain’s best hope of a medal may come in the doubles, although Murray and Joe Salisbury were also given a tough draw against French pairing Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
Murray is desperate to silence his doubters after crashing out of Wimbledon in the third round
The terrain matters less now, though. While Murray carried the weight of the nation’s expectations in London, where he beat Roger Federer to gold nine years ago, and Rio, where he was the nation’s flag bearer, now he can drink in the occasion, altered though it is in these times.
Look at his brother and Olympic Village room-mate Jamie’s Instagram feed and you see that Andy is the old stager, looking for a few last fireworks amid the embers of a glorious career.
‘I know that this could be the last (Olympics) for me,’ he added. ‘So I want to go out there and leave everything out on the court, fight for every single point.
‘You can never guarantee how you’re going to perform but you can control your effort levels, you can control how well you prepare and everything. I’ll take care of all of those things. And I hope that the performances follow.’