The only time Andy Murray and Jonas Björkman played each other the young Scot went into something of a meltdown before regathering his composure and going through to the third round of the 2007 US Open after five frustrating but exhilarating sets.
Eight years on they are a team, the 42-year-old Swede having joined Murray as assistant coach in March and destined to be his main adviser when they return to Flushing Meadows in late August in the absence of Amélie Mauresmo, who is due to have her first child shortly after Wimbledon.
When Björkman reflected on Murray’s memorable final day at Queen’s on Sunday – beating Viktor Troicki in his held-over semifinal, then Kevin Anderson in 64 minutes of astonishing tennis in the final two hours later – he looked back on their history with some fondness, painting a positive picture of the times to come as well.
When they played in New York, Björkman was the oldest player on the Tour at 35. Murray was 21 and he was not pleased with the Swede taking two sets off him, railing loudly at the referee over a perceived grievance, then rediscovering his cool to close out the match in a blur of powerful forehands. It was the summer of the wrist injury that sent him into a spiral of gloom and this win lifted his spirits substantially.
On the eve of Wimbledon, Björkman thinks Murray has excellent prospects of repeating his win over Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final, although he invests his thoughts with professional caution. “I am very happy to come in and be part of his team with Amélie and Treacs [his conditioner Matt Little],” he said. “Everyone has done a phenomenal job. Obviously I saw him player to player. I always had a great relationship with him – he is a great guy.
“I see a lot of similarities between us. He is a perfectionist. He can hit 15 great shots, miss the 16th and be frustrated about that. I was exactly the same. It was something I had to work on as well. I was probably the one who criticised myself the hardest in my team.
“When I was losing, if I played bad, I was a bad person. If I played good, I was a good person. I was very harsh on myself. I learned during my career to be more relaxed.”
The effect of that influence was palpable on Sunday. “He didn’t miss much,” Björkman said. “He’s doing well. It’s tough not to be frustrated week in and week out. It’s something everyone feels and we all show it differently. He has done a good job with [meeting his own expectations] and hopefully we can continue with that in the coming weeks.”
Björkman has known Mauresmo for a long time too.
“From the first day I came in, it’s been a lot of fun, all the guys doing a great job, easy-going. For me and Amélie, it was easy as well, once I was approached and had the first phone call from Andy. Then I spoke to Amélie quite a lot.
“She was one of the few girls that I knew out there because there weren’t so many combined events and one of her best friends was Fabrice Santoro, who was also one of my closer friends. That’s why I felt very confident and comfortable coming into this situation to be part of a team and I think she is feeling the same.
“It’s easy because Amélie is such a cool girl. I think we both have a good feeling of being part of a team. Each week is a combination because everyone cannot travel all the time; we are a pretty big team. When we were [together] in Barcelona it was easy, me and her chit-chatting. In Madrid, we had a couple of days together. We are on the phone every day going through tactics.
“When I was in Munich, she was coming in with feedback because you can see something on TV which you can’t see maybe sitting low at courtside. It was the same when I was not with them – I could come in maybe with some comments. It’s been working great. I think we will find it very easy to do the best for Andy.
“Amélie is in week 31 now. After Wimbledon she has to go back and rest and get prepared for – I mean no offence to Andy – probably the biggest event she’s been part of, to deliver a baby, which is very exciting. Then it will be a lot of travelling but a lot of fun.”
Björkman is not a stereotypical, quiet Swede. He always let his emotions flow – on the court and now in Murray’s team. “Every time I won a point, I had ‘the fist’. I was always pretty emotional. Maybe the other [Swedish] guys were a little more calm. For me it’s natural. I try to be calm but it’s definitely different to be sitting outside. It’s a lot more nerve-racking.”
On a practical level, Björkman is amazed by Murray’s fitness. “He is in incredible shape. I don’t think there are too many out there who are stronger than him. With the confidence he gained making the [2014 ATP World Tour Finals], which was his big goal at the end of last year, playing almost every week in the end, it made him get off to a good start this year.
“The combination of that confidence and being really strong – and not only strong to play five sets but moving quickly almost more than he has done – that has always been his strength but he is looking really good with that.
“I really was impressed with the way he practised in Barcelona. He is very professional in everything he does. I didn’t know that about him before.”
On court Björkman is impressed with Murray’s maturing mix of subtlety and aggression – the very qualities he brought to the final set against him in New York eight years ago. “The returning has been excellent. He has been finding his way of positioning on the return, especially off the second serves. I think he has a perfect position now. He has benefited from that on clay and even more now on the grass because he can continue to put pressure on his opponents by coming in, not too far in, but find a good balance.
“We are also trying then to get him comfortable and confident in moving in when he has the guy under pressure. When you have him out stretching for a slice, maybe to sneak in and have an easy volley instead of starting over. Even though he is great with that – to start over and win it again – I think he can save some energy on that.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015