There are two bottles of mineral water, one sparkling, the other still, lined up on the table in front of Andy Murray as we settle down to talk in the excruciatingly posh Hurlingham Club, on the banks of the Thames near Fulham, after his final workout before Wimbledon.
A small wager with a colleague on which water Murray will choose is down.
He chooses still. I should have known: athletes do not drink fizzy water usually because it interferes with digestion – and Murray is as meticulous about these seemingly small details as he is about the placement of a cross-court forehand at match point. Besides, he has brought his own special mixture. Of course he has.
If this conveys the impression the Scot is a machine it is misleading. As much as he has honed his body into premium shape through tortuous gym-based sacrifice over several winters, what he has also done since we first saw him at Wimbledon as a raw teenager, with nary a bicep worth the name, is grow as a human being. In a world where professional athletes can struggle with celebrity Murray seems as immune to the burden as anyone who springs to mind.
If the cards fall kindly for him in the coming fortnight, starting with his opening match against Benjamin Becker on Monday, he knows that the expectations of a nation will reach an even higher pitch than they did 12 months ago, in two contrasting yet equally significant finals on these lawns: his loss in the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer and his victory over him in the Olympics.
Well-founded suspicions that such emotional tidal waves would invariably drown him in the past have faded. He might cry, but he'll get the job done first. He has learned to harness pressure and fear. This keenest of boxing fans knows the line Mike Tyson took from his training sage Cus D'Amato: fire can burn your house down or keep you warm.
"All of the guys I work with," Murray says between sips of his private potion, "before I play a big match there are going to be nerves there. I'm sure even Ivan [Lendl] gets nervous and he has been in those positions as a player and now as a coach. I don't mind that. It shows everyone cares. There will be times, I'm sure, we can look back on and enjoy them when I've finished playing, but it is stressful when you are preparing for a Slam final. It's not easy." Nor should it be. Players have a term for coping with it: staying in the moment. "Nerves affect everyone in different ways," he says.
"I've always felt that when I've been nervous my shot selection is pretty good. I don't necessarily feel it in my head, I don't start rushing or panicking or anything like that. I sometimes feel it in my legs."
So, if the commentators rush to judgment when Murray tugs at his thigh after a poor or missed shot, perhaps we will now realise he is just tinkering with his psychic machine, looking for comfort.
He has the benefit in this tournament of living no more than half an hour from his workplace, a gentle drive up from Oxshott in Surrey in the first car he ever owned, a Volkswagen Polo. He is not a limousine man. He will relax at home with his girlfriend, Kim, his mother, Judy, and the dogs: normality before the insanity.
"I always sleep well before big matches, that's not a problem," he says. You're just thinking about the playing the match, and you also think about all the work and effort you have put in to get into that position, that you want to go out there and give a good account of yourself, and sometimes that's where nerves come from."
For solace he retreats to the place anyone with the option would choose: at home with his family. After losing the Wimbledon final Murray went back to Oxshott, closed the door to the world and was comforted by those he trusts the most. "They knew how upset I was but they don't want to baby you – and you may be feeling quite sensitive. You get on the defensive right away, and they say, 'You did great', or whatever. Tough to explain. But they are very supportive, and they picked me up ... We watched TV, ordered a couple pizzas, and stayed up quite late."
Pizza: it will do it every time. Or a hug from a schoolboy, the one who ran through the crowd to hug Murray and his Olympic gold medal. "At the time you don't think too much of it. But people were coming up to me and saying how great that was. The little kid just seemed so happy. His dad didn't know where he'd gone, lost him, he'd snuck up. It was nice."
"Nice" is fine, but what about hostility on court, the X-factor that can mean the difference between winning and losing? Ernests Gulbis suggested in Paris last month that the leading players were lost in a mutual admiration pact of meaningless words. Federer, Mr Nice, surprisingly, would welcome a bit of edge – and there was plenty of it between him and Murray in the semi-final in Melbourne this year, when they snarled across the net at each other in the fourth set. Federer says he can't remember what it was about – but he does remember winning the set.
"It would be interesting," Federer said, "a different take, a different vibe. We do get along very well so it's harder to be rougher on the guys, because, at the end, as we saw in Australia, you win or lose – and in my case I lost – and then I went to the press and I see Andy and I say, 'All the best, I hope you win the final.' It's not like 'Ooh, I don't want to see you ever again.' Or, like, you just totally avoid the guy."
They will avoid each other here at least until the semi-finals. And then it will be war again but, as Federer describes it, "civilised" conflict. While there is much respect between them, there is a sense that Murray is gaining the upper hand. Federer said it had always been tough playing Murray.
"The last 18 months, two years," Murray says, "I've started to be a bit more aggressive and understand what shots to play at the right times of matches and the sort of tennis I need to play to beat the top players at the big events. Given the situation I had a few weeks ago with the [back] injury I've prepared pretty much as best I could and given myself the best opportunity to do well. I spend a lot of time [at Wimbledon]. I know a lot of the people. I feel comfortable in the surroundings. It feels like a home court to me."
With that he takes a final sip on his bottle of cloudy water and lopes away like a well-prepared lion for battle at a place he finally can call home.
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