When Andy Murray returned to the playground of the rich, loud and tipsy for the first time in three years, he was pleasantly surprised to leave the ochre bear pit that is Court Rainier III with applause acclaiming a victory rather than the whistles and boos that fell upon him on previous visits.
Fundamental to winning on the grand, sunken stage of the glorious Monte Carlo Country Club is the ability to ignore the clinking of champagne glasses and cosmopolitan chuntering on the moneyed terraces above. “Panama, you say? Never been. Papa had some dealings there, I believe. Let me top you up … Oh, good shot! What’s his name?”
Not for the first time, Murray found himself an alien presence in this rarefied setting but his sweating struggle to get past the French doubles specialist Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in just over two hours was conducted against an unusually cordial backdrop. Perhaps they were taking it easy on a new parent.
Murray will have to play a good deal better, nonetheless, if he is to beat either João Sousa or Benoît Paire convincingly in the third round of the Rolex Masters on Thursday. If he slips up, the patrons will surely let him know about it.
What inspires Murray is a bit of edginess. He got it here on Tuesday afternoon when there was a brief outbreak of booing after he had disputed a line call in the third set. He responded by playing his best tennis of the match.
“I know everyone’s different but I prefer playing when there’s pressure or I feel like there’s something riding on the match,” he said.
“If I don’t feel that way, I don’t get nervous beforehand. Maybe it’s a bit easier to lose concentration or make a few more mistakes because you’re not as concerned about the outcome. Then, sometimes you can practise too much and think too much about what you’re doing.
“Sometimes, you sort of show up somewhere with no expectations. The year I lost the Wimbledon final and won the Olympics, once I’d accepted that maybe I wasn’t going to win the event, maybe I wouldn’t win a slam, that relaxed me.”
Murray was hugely impressed by Danny Willett’s victory in the Masters on Sunday, after the Yorkshireman had “sort of shown up” and decided to play at the last minute, having become a father again only 10 days before.
And Murray did admit he thinks less about tennis since Sophia was born just before the Davis Cup last month.
“Yeah, the time that you spend with your family, you’re thinking about what’s best for her: is she getting enough sleep, what should we do in the next hour to make sure she sticks to the same routine, all those sorts of things.
“Before, you’d get back to your hotel room, normally just thinking about tennis, the next day, watching loads of matches, have the TV on. I’m quite happy with how that’s going. We get to spend a lot of time with her – Kim, obviously, more than me. And there’s no reason why that should have any effect on my tennis which, in my opinion, it hasn’t.
“Right now I’m a lot happier off the court than I ever have been before. But then, on the court, I’ve not been playing as well. So people want to find reasons for why I’m not playing so well. But it’s nothing to do with me not being happy. I’ve never been happier.”
Murray got the job done this time, after a fashion, and the Trustafarians, boat-owners and other solid citizens of the principality cheered him warmly as he went. Well done, Nicole et Pierre.
Aljas Bedene, meanwhile, cannot wait to take on Rafael Nadal on Wednesday but he is not fooling himself that the faltering, one‑time undisputed master of this surface – and this tournament – is there for the taking. “If I bring my best tennis,” he said after beating the former Rafa tormentor Lukas Rosol. “I’m still not the favourite but I have a chance. It’s never a good time to play someone like him. But, if I can pick any, this is the time.”
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