In one respect Murray is in the wrong sport. He was blessed with genes that determined he would earn fame with a racket, yet his natural shyness is suited neither to the demands of public performance nor the applause that accompanies it. These are learned skills, like a rippling forehand, and, while he has grown into the job well enough, he is too honest with himself to be entirely at ease when required to endure the rituals of professional sport. He would probably rather play Novak Djokovic twice than talk to journalists once – although, that said, he is never less than gracious and co-operative.
His tennis is what matters. It is on the court – like a fighter in the ring – where he can express himself most eloquently, in a language that only a few understand. His tennis is so good now that those fears about his ever breaking the hegemony at the top of the game should be set aside. His peers always feared him but they invariably beat him, too, when it mattered in the biggest matches; now that fear will grow. Certainly Djokovic will know when he looks across the net at Murray the next time that the Scot's self-belief will be much more solid than in the past – just as his grew once he embarked on that remarkable run that followed his part in Serbia's Davis Cup win over France.
Murray (along with everyone else in the game) knows nobody is likely to replicate the year Djokovic had in 2011 but, with significant wins over Djokovic and Roger Federer at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows this summer, he has found a level of consistency that was missing towards the end of tournaments.
In beating Djokovic over five sets in the rain-delayed final in New York that extended four hours and 54 minutes into Monday night he brought his game near to a peak of irresistibility. So sophisticated was this mugging, it was missed by many; when the defending champion's legs gave up on him in the fifth set (he admitted later, he was pretty much beaten from 4-2 down), it was the result of the exquisite torture Murray inflicted on him earlier, especially in the first two sets, when he ran him into the ground across the baseline.
It was a gamble, given the Serb's level of fitness, but it paid a dividend when it mattered, testimony to Murray's own remarkable stamina and the tactical input of his coach, Ivan Lendl. There can be no playing down the influence of Lendl, who came on board in January, promising to beef up the aggression and force of Murray's tennis. He did it incrementally, the forehand gradually coming into play more often, as Murray moved inside the baseline, taking calculated risks and pressing the exchanges rather than extending them.
Defence is still at the heart of his game and few opponents relish a marathon with him but, working behind a souped-up serve, with his second serve now carrying more kick, Murray has turned from counter-puncher to a be-first fighter.
Away from the court none of these improvements in technique and demeanour have changed the essence of the man and that is a rarity in sport. It was surreal witnessing close at hand Murray's quiet and dignified acceptance of acclaim from all quarters. For all that he suffered physically in breaking a jinx and the resistance of Djokovic simultaneously in a brutal final, a similarly tough assault on his senses awaited Murray in the whirlwind of television appearances that consumed him the following morning. He was in the first New York TV studio, talking to the renowned Charlie Rose, within half an hour of waking up, hair quickly brushed, smile in place.
He arrived a little after noon at the penthouse apartment on First Avenue of the British consul-general, Danny Lopez, for more praise and peanuts, greeting it all with a reddening face and that giveaway nervous cough, answering questions with a quiet, considered directness.
And here he is in Dunblane again, welcomed back from New York, as if the principal in some Hollywood movie, the original Local Hero. His mother, Judy, has moved on – although only three miles down the road to a new house. And those awful recollections of the Dunblane shootings in 1996 will never disappear. Yet, although he travels the world like Gulliver and lives in the comfort of genteel Surrey, this will always be his home.
Few sports tear a competitor apart the way tennis does. Murray's decision to decline an invitation to march with Scotland's other Olympians in Glasgow on Friday because he was "physically and mentally wrecked" is evidence of that. He would have liked nothing better than to celebrate his part in the best sporting show this country has seen in some little while but he desperately needed a rest.
That his life has changed is beyond question. It is a prospect that disturbs him slightly although, if any sporting celebrity is equipped to handle it, Murray is that reluctant star.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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