Andy Murray says the simple joy of hitting a tennis ball is what will drive him on well into his 30s – and he even harbours ambitions of winning an unprecedented third Olympic singles gold medal.
The world No1 – a husband, father, multimillionaire and knight of the realm, with more accolades than a rock star – could easily walk away from the sport he has been playing competitively for a quarter of a century.
However, as Murray explained on the eve of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club, where he begins the defence of his fifth title against the British No4, Aljaz Bedene, on Tuesday, tennis has always meant more to him than titles and rankings.
“That’s basically what I have done for my whole life. Right now there’s a purpose towards me doing it. When I go out I’m really trying to get better and learn stuff and improve. There’s a point to me doing it. I want to make the most of the last few years of my career. If that’s two years, four years or six years doesn’t matter.
“So long as I’m fit and healthy and enjoying playing I’ll do it as long as I can. I don’t want to stop in two years. I want to keep playing. Who knows where I am going to be in a few years?”
It could be Tokyo, perhaps, defending the second Olympic singles title he won in Rio last year? “I would hope to still be playing at the next Olympics. I would like to. I don’t think that would be how I would judge when or if I’m going to stop, based on just trying to make it to the next Olympics. I would want to go to the Olympics if I still felt I could be competitive or win. Who knows? Maybe I might not even be in the Olympics ranking wise or there might be more British guys ahead of me at that time.”
The likelihood of that being Bedene – or Kyle Edmund or Dan Evans, for that matter – is remote. Indeed the Scot has been the dominant force in the British game for so much of his 13 years on Tour it is taken for granted he will always be regarded as the best.
However, he does not disagree with John McEnroe’s assessment of him as being realistically regarded as fourth in his generation behind Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. “I think for pretty much all of my career that would have been the case,” he said.
“I’ve always been behind them in the rankings. If you look at the titles and everything those guys have won, I can’t compare myself to them. There’s maybe one or two things I have done that they won’t have but, for the most part, I would have been fourth. That’s if you look at a whole career. But it’s not true of the last year, because I’m ranked No1 in the world.
“I’ve been better than them for the last 12 months, that’s how the ranking systems work. It took me a long time to get there. It’s not true of the last year. But, in terms of the career as a whole, then I would, if I could, swap careers with those guys. I obviously would because they’ve won a lot more than me.”
In reality Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic are the only immediate threats to his No1 ranking. The picture will become clearer at the end of this week but the pressure is undoubtedly on Murray to fight hard for his place at the top and he is well aware a sixth victory at Queen’s would be the perfect preparation for defending his Wimbledon title.
“The field here this year is really strong, as it is most years. Since they reduced the size of the draw and it went up to a 500 level, it has most definitely improved. So, it’s going to be tough.”
He arrives refreshed after a run to the French Open semi-finals many thought was beyond him because of health problems and a dip in form on clay. His coach, Ivan Lendl, was sufficiently encouraged by his showing to remain in Europe rather than return to Florida, and they have been getting accustomed to their old training regime since then.
“I took Saturday and Sunday off, had a couple of light practices on Monday, Tuesday, just to get used to the grass. Didn’t do much moving, just hit a few balls and then trained Wednesday, Thursday. One day was at Wimbledon, one day here. Had a day off on Friday, then practised Saturday, Sunday back on site here.
“I’ll come in again tomorrow and hit. It’s so much better having the week between them now. It makes a huge difference, a bit more time to adapt to the courts and let your body get used to playing on grass again.”
This is Murray’s life. “I still enjoy the training, I enjoy the travelling, I love what I do.” And, as his mother, Judy, said on receiving her OBE the other day: “I do what I love.”