As Andy Murray sat down in his courtside chair and sobbed uncontrollably after winning a second Wimbledon title, his fitness trainer Matt Little knew more than most what was behind the new champion’s emotion.
While Team Murray has seen numerous members come and go over the years, Little has been a constant presence by the world No 2’s side, helping to guide his recovery after back surgery in the autumn of 2013 which may have been classed as ‘minor’ at the time but was one of the factors behind his three-year period without winning a Grand Slam.
‘I think it’s been a long journey since the last time he won,’ said Little. ‘He has put a lot of hard work in and dedicated himself completely as always. It’s very special because he has had quite a few tough times since his last one actually, including the surgery and lots of changes in the team and he is very relieved, but this time really ecstatic as well which is really nice.
‘The back surgery was tough. It took us probably the best part of a year to really get him back on track and feeling good and we still work tirelessly to keep him feeling that way. It’s been a long road. It’s hard to find the words to describe it because seeing what he has gone through and how much he has dedicated himself every day has been incredible.
‘When he lost the French Open final, we were sitting around the table having a discussion about it that night to say, “How much harder can we push you? How much extra can we get out of you?”. There were some soul-searching moments there actually. The emotion on Sunday is actually a part of thinking about the journey since the last time he won a slam and how much work that everyone has put in despite all the change and all of the adversity that comes along with it.
‘To think that he would get through this tournament off the back of that French Open and that clay-court season without any niggles at all is for us as big a success as Andy lifting the trophy himself because it wasn’t looking that way after the back surgery. He was in a lot of pain and frankly it is testament to his work but also to the team’s hard work and how we have worked together that has been a real big success story.’
When Ivan Lendl was considering a return to the Murray camp, Little was one of the team members that the Czech coach consulted before making his decision. ‘He wanted a bit of an update on where Andy was at,’ said Little.
Matt Little (right), Murray’s fitness coach, knows more than most what the Brit has been through recently
‘I got a phone call when I was at a family barbecue. He said, “OK, right, update me, what’s been happening? Where is he at physically? Can we get more out of him physically?” I said, ‘Actually I think he is pretty close to his max really, we can keep pushing him but I think he is pretty good. I don’t think he is losing these things because of physical reasons’.
‘Of course as a team we keep pushing, we keep trying to find angles, we keep trying to find extra things and that will continue to happen. Even now, one of the first conversations we had after he won was “OK, right, what’s next? What are we doing now? What’s the plan?” and that’s the way it is going to be. That is also what Ivan brings actually. He says, “OK, great, we’ve got that one under the belt, but let’s look forward, let’s make it even better”.’
Little continues to be astonished by Murray’s fitness levels and speed, which is said to be as quick as 100m world record holder Usain Bolt over the first 10 metres. Murray has previously been clocked at moving at 10m per second over very short intervals, which is similar to starts made by Bolt, although the world’s fastest man can obviously maintain that pace for 100m.
Little (right) celebrates alongside Murray’s wife Kim (left) and Shane Annun during the men’s singles final
Although Murray is on the brink of entering his thirties at the age of 29, Little believes he is as strong physically as he has ever been.
‘From a physical perspective, I haven’t seen Andy put in a bad session in nine years,’ said Little.
‘One of the things we are working on is his speed and power and I’m really determined that he doesn’t lose that in this final third of his career.
‘But I also don’t want to just kill him, so I’ve set levels where he needs to achieve those standards and once he has achieved them, we back off that area. It is not about constantly smashing him and hammering him in the gym.’
Little is one of the most active members of Team Murray in the box, constantly on his feet and giving encouragement. Although Murray is often prone to an outburst in the direction of his box, Little believes he feeds off the interaction in a positive way.
‘I do feel like he looks to the box to help him through tough moments in the match, be that him verbalising towards us or expecting us to verbalise towards him,’ said Little.
‘I’ve seen so many matches now, I get a feeling for when things are about to start to go flat with him and I get a feeling when things are going to start to go a little bit against him and I also get a feeling of when he needs to be left alone and when he’s OK. That’s just through years and years of watching him play so many matches and the ebbs and flows of all these matches.
‘Even in the Jo-Wilfried Tsonga match [in the quarter-finals] you could feel it coming when he was two sets up, that he might start to go a little bit flat and the volume that we put in then is so important, the intensity of the box, him looking to the box and seeing us all looking at him, eye contact and all that kind of stuff. I feel like it really helps him.
‘It is also good to have that balanced with someone like Ivan who is very calm and very assured. But Andy feeds off that energy, he needs it. I’ve had nine years of screaming at him but he’s returned the favour.’