Born into a tennis-mad family, raised on rallies and sibling rivalry with his older brother Jamie, fueled by a burning competitive streak – many would say a young Andy Murray was always destined to reach the top.
The world No. 1 is about to embark on a defense of his Wimbledon title. A third victory at SW19 – traditionally seen as Murray’s “home” slam – would bolster his position as one of Britain’s finest ever athletes.
If the three-time grand slam champion, who turned 30 in May, has come a long way he’s the first to admit that at first he only ever wanted to carve out a pro career in the sport.
“My goal was to get into the top 100, become a professional tennis player and make a living from it,” Murray, who became world No. 1 November last year, told CNN.
“I certainly never expected to get to the top of the rankings. That wasn’t ever a goal of mine. Never something I thought would happen.
“When I was 14, I was in the top two or three in Europe, so I was aware that I was good at that age. But it doesn’t really mean anything.
“It wasn’t until I started playing professional tournaments and I would win against – and practice against – top players and be able to compete with them that I realized I could make it.”
Reaching the top
Murray turned down the opportunity to play with Scottish football club Glasgow Rangers as a youngster. With his focus on tennis the chance to train at the Cazal-Sanchez academy in Barcelona provided the teenage Scot with a stepping stone to the elite level.
It was there that he learned the importance of resilience.
“It taught me a lot,” he says of his time in Catalonia. “I learned to work hard, I learned about discipline and I did my schooling here as well. It was great.”
After establishing himself in the upper echelons of the sport, the next step was to shake-off the tag of tennis’s nearly-man after Murray endured four defeats in major finals.
Collecting two Olympic gold medals and three grand slams crowns – Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016 and the US Open in 2012 – did that and then some.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that those titles have been eked out while he’s been competing against some of the game’s greatest players.
Since Murray made his grand slam debut at Wimbledon in 2005, 39 of the past 47 majors have gone to one of his three main rivals – Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
The icing on the cake was a hard-fought victory over Djokovic at the ATP Finals last November, which ended the Serb’s 122-week reign as No. 1 and made Murray the 26th player to occupy the top spot.
And the grit that defines Murray’s on-court style is something he believes separates the greats of sport from the rest.
That and exceptional ability.
“My belief is that everyone that gets to the top of any sport works hard and is professional,” says Murray.
“The thing that separates the best athletes that work hard and the ones that are great is talent. A special ability in that sport.
“In tennis, with the players that are talented, it just appears that they have more time on the court; that they have more time on the ball. It appears that they have more time to think.”
This season has had its ups and downs.
A shock fourth-round defeat to German Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open was followed by early losses at ATP tournaments in Rome, Madrid, Monte Carlo, and Indian Wells.
He lost out in the semifinals of the French Open in a tense, five-set encounter with Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka. Murray, who usually struggles on the clay, said the tournament was a “turning point” following a period of indifferent form.
But then he crashed out of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club in the first round, a tournament traditionally seen as a warm-up to Wimbledon and one Murray has won five times.
The Wimbledon experience
In 2005, a fresh-faced 18-year-old Murray made his Wimbledon debut.
Expectations were high. A Brit hadn’t lifted the single’s title at SW19 since Virginia Wade in 1977 – and no man since Fred Perry in 1936.
While Murray’s first steps onto the Wimbledon grass went well (he became the first Scot ever to reach the third round), later years proved frustrating.
Three semifinal defeats and a runner-up spot between 2009 and 2012 – the last of which saw a tearful Murray succumb to Federer – led many Brits to question whether their wait for a champion would end.
But then, the following year, a breakthrough came with victory over Djokovic in 2013. A nation breathed a collective sigh of relief and, at last, could salute a home-grown champion.
“Wimbledon’s changed a lot. The first time I played, it was straight after a Junior French Open, in front of 15-20 people,” recalls Murray, who won his second Wimbledon title against Canadian Milos Raonic last year.
“Going into Centre Court, you can imagine it was a life-changing experience. I was totally new, I was not prepared at all.
“Whereas now I have been through that 11-12 times in my career and I’m quite used to that, better prepared to handle the pressure of a British player competing at Wimbledon.”
This year’s men’s draw promises to be one of the most competitive in recent memory.
Nadal and Federer arrive off the back of grand slam victories; Djokovic is suffering a dip in form, but you’d be unwise to discount the three-time winner.
Murray, ever at home on his favorite grass surface, also singles out some outsiders, too: Nick Kyrgios, Zverev, and Raonic.
But if Murray can overcome his recent hip injury, the Scot will also be a serious contender for the title when he walks through the hallowed corridors of Centre Court.
A mature Murray is more than capable of a third Wimbledon triumph.
It’s more than a young Murray could ever have dreamed of.