When asked about how young his brother was when he first tried to kick his ass, Jamie replies succinctly, “About four.” Andy added: “You have to ask our mum and dad what we were like when we used to play together when we were younger. It’s still like that today.” Like what? It remains unanswered in a blur of banter.
But the exchange articulates the reality that Jamie was the brother who provided the serve to return, the ball to be chased, the opponent to be overcome, the battle to be contested. And ultimately won. The first time that Andy beat Jamie remains the subject of one of those family arguments that can be resolved as easily as knitting a jumper out of fog. But it happened. The satisfaction it gave the younger brother cannot be underestimated, but it infused him with a more profound and productive quality: confidence. The world was now opening up to the Dunblane youngster, but what was the next step, the next marginal gain? It was to be a substantial leap rather than a hesitant skip.
Murray knew in his early teenage years that he had to play regularly against better opponents. He was talking to Rafael Nadal, a contemporary at the top youth tournaments, when the Spaniard told the Scot he had been hitting with Carlos Moya, then one of the world’s best players. Murray had not so much outgrown Jamie but moved away from him in a physical sense. The older brother was working with the LTA in England, but Andy opted for Barcelona. He could play full-time there, he could play against those contemporaries who wanted to break on to the ATP tour and in the benign weather of Catalonia he could play all day and most of the night.
It was about winning, of course. His audition was a trademark Murray moment. He played Emilio Sanchez, co-founder of the Sanchez–Casal academy in Barcelona. Sanchez, brother of Arantxa, a former world No.1 in women’s tennis, was a three-time grand slam winner in doubles. He was 35. Murray was 13. The Scot beat him 6–3, 6–1.
“From the first moment when we played together I realized how difficult it would be to play against this kid when he was grown up, because he had these tools,” says Sanchez. “When you were forcing him to the side of the court he always seemed to have an answer for it. The best way for me to tell how good a player is, is to play with them. Then you see that they are able to come out with solutions.”
Murray’s day at the academy was rigorous. It involved tennis training from 9 a.m. to noon, fitness from noon to 1 p.m., lunch from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., school 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., more tennis from 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m., then more school from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m..
The Scot was a rising star. He had the technique, he had the shots. He won the U.S. Open juniors in 2004, defeating Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine in straight sets. As always, Jamie was not far away. The junior grand slam came just two days after the brothers had been beaten in the semifinals of the doubles tournament.
“This is my favorite tournament and I would love to come back and win here as a senior. My long-term aim is to make the world’s top 10,” said Andy in the wake of a junior major. He was to achieve both goals within a decade.
But there is always another step, and other gain to make.
Sanchez said: “When he was very young and came to the academy he always talked about being No.1 and now he is getting close to the target. He was born to do it.”
And his brother was born not only to play doubles tennis at the top level, but to help his brother take on the world.
To read the rest of Hugh MacDonald’s essay, you can purchase Murrayball exclusively through the Kindle store.