andy murray

Andy Murray: Game On!

There was a telling scene during Andy Murray’s ecstatically greeted walkabout in his hometown as the newly crowned US Open champion in September 2012. A good portion of Scotland’s five million population appeared to be jammed into the high street of Dunblane, the cathedral town north of Stirling where he was brought up, to confer on him their noisy approval of a job well done.

“He shook thousands of hands, signed hundreds of autographs,” says his approving grandmother Shirley Erskine, 79. Then he found himself walking past the newsagent’s still run by the same chap, Peter, who used to top up his childhood sweet supply (adding to Gran’s paper bill).

“Have you got any Milkybars? I’m starving,” Andy shouted over.

 The newsagent disappeared and reappeared with the loot.

“Oh,” said the sports star, a thought suddenly striking him. “I haven’t got any money on me.”

Some things never change. In fact, most things never change in the life of Andy Murray. He may have become the first British tennis player to win a Grand Slam in 76 years; the first ever to win an Olympic gold medal; and now the first to inspire the 24-carat belief that “one of us” can win Wimbledon at last. Years of training and Bikram yoga may have taken him from the gawky teen who first emerged in 2005 to a player with a picturesque physique capable of overcoming tennis’ gladiatorial greats. But the man himself is essentially, quaintly, endearingly, the same.

His mum Judy has an album where she keeps his early cuttings. There are hilarious pictures of two mop-haired boys, Andy and elder brother Jamie, wielding racquets alongside some telling headlines. “British Player Wins Tournament Shock” from The Scotsman, 2000, is a reminder of what life used to be like. The story begins with the phrase, “Wee Andy Murray...”

I don't mean to upset people

He was indeed a wee unknown, a supporter of Hibernian football club where his grandfather Roy Erskine once played, competitive at everything including board games, and so superstitious that he thought cutting a clump of fur off his grandparents’ dog Abby and keeping it in his sock would help cement the odd victory (he may have been right).

Those were the days his Mini (as he nicknamed his beloved grandma because she was smaller than him) used to stand him his sweet money. Now they reckon he’s worth about £24m and he lives in a £5m mansion in Surrey. He’s also just bought the Dunblane hotel, where he was best man at his brother’s wedding.

But, says Shirley, “he’s always been very unassuming. He’s never looked for fame or fortune or anything like that. He just single-mindedly wanted to be the best there is. The fact that he’s got money doesn’t bother him, and he certainly doesn’t court celebrity.”

Andy is very close to Shirley—she looked after him when Judy went to work—and spends every Christmas with her and Roy.

“He came here for breakfast just before his homecoming walkabout,” Shirley says. “We gave him a special gift from our local silversmith—a miniature version of the post box that was painted gold in his honour. We had it engraved: ‘You’re awesome. We’re so proud of you.’ He was really quite overcome.

“I said to him: ‘How do you feel about today?'

“He said: ‘Do you think there’ll be a lot of people?’

“I laughed: ‘I think you might be quite surprised, Andy.’ Of course, there were thousands. Judy had invited as many of his old school friends as she could. One of them works in our local butcher’s and he brought—would you believe—two packets of sausages for Andy. Made up in sets of five, not six, because Andy had won the US Open in five sets.”

I was scared as I didn’t want to break anything. The prime minister was hit-ting the ball really hard at me,

Andy may have the haircut and the confidence of a superstar, but never the swagger. He shares an agent with David Beckham and numbers Sir Alex Ferguson and a James Bond (Sir Sean Connery) as fans. He even played tennis against David Cameron in the state dining room at Number 10, but his main reaction was panic rather than egotistical gloating.

“I was scared as I didn’t want to break anything. The prime minister was hit-ting the ball really hard at me,” he said. (The crystal chandelier was imperilled, but survived.)

He once bought a red Ferrari and then sold it again out of sheer embarrassment. While some global champions use their fame as a springboard for socialising, to put it mildly, Murray has had the same girlfriend since 2005—Kim Sears (an artist). Apart from a fleeting relationship while training in Spain in his teens, he has been a one-woman man all his life. In his autobiography, he has the maturity to acknowledge that his parents’ divorce had been so painful in his early teens that he never wanted to split with someone he loved if he could help it.

Shirley reckons his relationship with Kim is only going one way. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” she says, though she has more sense than to actually mention the word “marriage” out loud to her grandson. “Their relationship has stood the test of time and she’s a lovely girl. She really is. She keeps herself quiet in the background but is tremendously supportive. When Andy’s home, he just loves to have a quiet time with her and the dogs, Maggie and Rusty.”

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