NEW YORK: A scrawny, pasty-faced Andy Murray first made a Grand Slam impact when he was just 18 and making his Wimbledon debut in 2005.
He reached the third round where he gave Argentina’s David Nalbandian, the 2002 runner-up, a huge scare by taking a two-sets-to-love lead before running out of steam to lose in five.
But amongst the first questions posed at a packed news conference was an enquiry far removed from the gentile confines of the All England Club in leafy, southwest London where million-pound homes abound.
The questioner wanted to know about Murray’s recollection of his schooldays in the Scottish town of Dunblane, where he had been a pupil when deranged gunman Thomas Hamilton burst in and murdered 16 children and one teacher in 1996.
Murray was eight at the time and his elder brother, Jamie, also a professional player, 10. He recalls surviving by hiding under a desk in the headmaster’s office.
“Some of my friends’ brothers and sisters were killed. I have only retained patchy impressions of that day, such as being in a classroom singing songs,” Murray wrote in his autobiography, Hitting Back.
“The weirdest thing was that we knew Hamilton. He had been in my mum’s car.
It’s obviously weird to think you had a murderer in your car, sitting next to your mum.
“That is probably another reason why I don’t want to look back at it. It is just so uncomfortable to think that it was someone we knew from the Boys Club.
“We used to go to the club and have fun. Then to find out he’s a murderer was something my brain couldn’t cope with.”
With such a childhood trauma, it is hardly surprising that 25-year-old Murray, who on Monday became Britain’s first men’s Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry in 1936, comes across as a hard man to read.
Murray, with over 20 million banked from his career, does not suffer fools gladly and talks straight, his often unsmiling demeanour presented to the media at odds with a man known as a joker amongst his close friends.
That granite exterior was softened – probably forever – when he broke down in tears after his loss in July’s Wimbledon final to Roger Federer, his fourth successive flop in a Grand Slam final.
He then became a national hero last month when he captured an Olympic Games gold medal, gaining revenge on Federer.
It was not always that way.
Sometimes his public utterances used to backfire, which only served to increase people’s suspicions before his golden summer of 2012 went into overdrive.
On the eve of the 2006 football World Cup, he was asked who he would support and he replied: “Anyone but England”.
It led to the Scot being condemned as unpatriotic and unsporting.
Britain is just not used to having a decent tennis player and the bemusement was illustrated after he had defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Wimbledon semi-final this year to become the country’s first men’s finalist since Bunny Austin in 1938.
Bizarre question: “I just got a call from Bunny Austin who was very relieved that nobody will talk about him next year. Do you think Fred Perry has a good chance to be talked about any more next year? On Sunday night do you think Fred Perry will benedict your win?”
Murray: “He’s not alive, though. I don’t understand.”
Questioner: “From up there he’ll send you a benediction.”
Murray: “Uhm, yeah, well, I hope so.”
But Murray melted hearts when he sobbed after his loss to Federer. His mother Judy and girlfriend, Kim Sears, were also in tears as grim-faced Andy left Centre Court having warmed the hearts of a nation.
With an historic US Open title under his belt, Murray may be surprised to know that he is now Britain’s Mr. Nice Guy, not Mr. Grumpy.