A word to the wise: if Sir Andy Murray ever invites you round for dinner, don’t go. He may be the most successful British tennis player of modern times but it’s fair to say he’s not the era’s most successful cook. The one and only speciality chez Murray? ‘Pasta with Dolmio stir-in sauce.’
Happily, we speak over Zoom rather than across his kitchen table. He’s at the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton and it’s the tail-end of lockdown but his curly hair is disappointingly restrained (his wife, Kim Sears, cut it). Wearing a pec-hugging sweatshirt, the 33-year-old looks fitter than ever and is jovial company but this masks an injury-ravaged four years for the two-time Wimbledon champion.
While this has kept Murray largely off the court, it has not slowed him down. Instead, he has channelled his energy into new ventures including AMC by Castore, a collaboration with the premium sportswear brand, starring in an Amazon Prime documentary Andy Murray: Resurfacing, and having his fourth child, during lockdown. Not to mention trying to return to tennis’s elite, having slipped from world No 1 to his present 121.
Murray makes for an unlikely fashion maven. Although he did once have lunch with American Vogue editor Dame Anna Wintour in Paris (she did not comment on his attire), he admits to not exactly being Karl Lagerfeld. But he knows what he likes and what athletes need.
‘I don’t know much about fashion at all, but I trial and test all of the kits from the technical side of things,’ he says in his trademark Scottish monotone. ‘When something’s put in front of me, I know I either like that or I don’t.’
Having previously sported Fred Perry, Adidas and Under Armour, his involvement with Castore is more than just putting his name to a new line: he has become an investor in the brand. The aesthetic is crisp and minimal, with an emphasis on performance. The hope is he will be wearing it this summer at Wimbledon, where he has not played singles since 2017.
Three and a half years ago, Murray underwent hip surgery. After an abortive comeback and finding himself struggling even to put socks on, he endured a second, more invasive hip resurfacing procedure. The man whose game is based on exquisite movement and explosive pace has played just 25 competitive matches since.
Yet as anyone who has followed his career will know, Murray is unafraid of a challenge. Born in Dunblane, Scotland, where sunshine averages a measly 3.4 hours a day, he reached the summit of the quintessentially summer sport. He was diagnosed at 16 with a split kneecap that many thought would prevent him from competing at the highest level, and has long had to manage the limitations of his body. Two Wimbledon titles, a US Open and double Olympic gold suggest he has navigated it well. But he freely concedes that the past few years have been tough.
‘Once I had the metal hip I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,’ Murray says. ‘There’s just — at times, I didn’t expect it to be quite like this.’ Murray has been training hard but can barely get on court. But still he persists. ‘It’s either do it or stop playing, and I still want to keep playing. I just don’t enjoy it as much as maybe I did a few years ago.’
I still want to keep playing. I just don’t enjoy it as much as maybe I did a few years ago
Yet, there have been upsides to the enforced time away from the tour — Murray has been able to spend more time with his young family. ‘I got to see my kids growing up in the last couple of years and I’ve spent loads of time around them and got to build great relationships with them, which I wouldn’t have had the chance to do otherwise… In some ways, that’s been really the positive thing that’s come out of this.’
Of the so-called big four in men’s tennis (alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic), Murray is the most relatable. When he misses a shot he thinks he should make, he screams in anguish. In lockdown, like all parents, he strove to find ways of keeping his children occupied. ‘I was building castles out of cardboard boxes, which the kids loved but they looked terrible.’
What makes Murray stand out is not just his everyman persona but the respect he engenders from his peers on both the men’s and women’s tours. For those who do not follow tennis politics closely, this is not the norm. After he initially announced his retirement in 2019, Murray was inundated with heartfelt tributes from female players, including Billie Jean King, who called him ‘a champion on and off the court’.
Murray did not set out to be an advocate for equality. But when he saw injustice or misogyny, he called it out. ‘When I started working with a female coach [Amélie Mauresmo], that was when I realised there was a problem and I was like, “Wow”, you know she’s been number one in the world? You cannot be more successful than that. I felt she was being unfairly judged in the media and purely because she was a woman.’
Murray has also been quick to challenge reporters who ignore records set by female players. ‘I just want everyone, so men and women, to be treated the same. I don’t think that’s radical, I just think it should be a human right.’ He is also prepared to take on the Association of Tennis Professionals for its initial reticence in commenting on serious allegations made against two male players: Alexander Zverev, who has been accused by a former girlfriend of domestic violence, and Nikoloz Basilashvili, who is awaiting trial in Georgia on a charge of domestic violence against his ex-wife. Both men have denied the allegations. ‘I think they [ATP] took too long for sure to say anything. We don’t really have any protocol or process in place for when allegations like that are made, which is obviously a blind spot.’
‘I just want everyone, so men and women, to be treated the same. I don’t think that’s radical
This calm but outspoken Murray did not arrive on the world stage fully formed. Scrutiny is the price of business for any global sports star and he has taken the scenic route to his present-day status as an Attenborough-esque national treasure. ‘I was a young kid who was used to playing in front of no people and having no attention at all, just loved playing tennis. When I started doing press conferences I basically said exactly what was on my mind and it was considered to be fun and exciting. But then I had some issues with jokes that were taken the wrong way.’ In 2006 when, on being asked who he was supporting at that summer’s football World Cup, he joked ‘whoever England were playing against’. This remark haunted him for years. ‘I was 20 years old at the time. You don’t really know yourself at that age and you’re still learning about the world. It was a period of my career when I didn’t really enjoy what I was doing as much or all of the things that went with it.’
The journalist Steve Tignor once described Murray’s game as an elaborate edifice built to mask the fact that he had everything except the one thing you need to dominate — a point-ending forehand. It is one reason why his three great rivals have won many more majors. Yet mere statistics fail to capture the full extent of Murray’s impact on the game or his status as a national hero. No matter how this comeback goes, his professional — if not culinary — legacy is secure.
Andy Murray wears AMC, a premium tennis clothing brand created and designed by Andy and Castore – www.castore/AMC