Strength and conditioning coach Matt Little has worked with Andy Murray since 2007, through the thrilling highs and painful lows and an unlikely renaissance after hip surgery.
Take us back to the very beginning. How long have you been working with Andy, and how did it come about?
We’ve been working together for around 15 years now. We met when I was involved with his brother [Jamie], when won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Jelena Jankovic. I built a rapport and a friendship with Andy during that time, and then, after he finished working with Brad Gilbert later that year, he decided to put a team in place around him. From there we formed the very first ‘Team Murray’ way back in December 2007 and I’ve gone on to be the longest-serving member, aside from Kim and Judy, of course!
Was there a moment where you realised Andy was just ‘different’ from what you were used to working with? Give us an example.
I think the Gasquet match at Wimbledon in 2008. I don’t know if you remember that match… but the you must recall that bicep pose! That was the realisation of a lot of the hard work we’d put in and was the start of a four- to five-year project to build his body in the way that we wanted to. That was the day I understood that not only were we working with an incredible tennis player, but also he could become a physical beast alongside all the attributes he already had.
Give us an insight into what Andy is like behind the scenes. What is it that sets him apart from other athletes you’ve worked with?
Andy’s always gained confidence from being physically fitter than his opponent, and that’s what’s motivated him to pretty much outwork anyone on the tour. The sheer volume of work that he does is phenomenal, but it’s the consistency of his work, both on and off the court, that really stands out. He’s never had a dip in motivation. If ever you asked him whether he wanted to do a session, the answer would and always will be ‘Yes’.
‘The sheer volume of work that he does is phenomenal, but it’s the consistency that really stands out.’
His willingness to consistently put in the hard yards in comparison to other tour pros that I’ve either worked with or been around has always really impressed me. That’s what really sets the greats apart, right? He’s just continually willing to do the uncomfortable things.
He’s famously been a ‘questioner’ of things over the years. He’s so analytical, drilling into every subject to the nth degree. If I give him a session, he’ll always want to know why: “Why today?” “How does it link to my tennis training at this moment?” “What’s the data behind it?” These are questions that other players don’t ask in as much detail.
What does a typical training day look like? What are the differences between the main tour and during off season?
There’s a much greater emphasis on the physical side during the off-season. That’s where we get chances to make great strides from a physical standpoint. In peak season, you’re forever balancing the energy levels of competing and the amount of training required to keep the body going.
In terms of preparation to play, we take longer than ever these days. It can be anywhere up to two hours, including a physical warm-up, time with the physio etc.
The tennis sessions are obviously extremely gruelling. During a development block, these can be up to three hours a day. Then there will be sessions where we’re analysing things, chatting about data, the commercial elements. Andy’s days don’t involve many gaps for just chilling out!
How much time would Andy spend on his mental game? How has this changed?
This has really fluctuated over the years. He uses a psychologist from the LTA, but to be fair, nowadays this is not something that I or the wider team get too involved in.
Previously, the entire team would interact with the psychologist to ensure that we were all on the same page with the right messaging, but as he’s matured as an athlete he’s interacted with the psychologist a little better. He’s able to implement what they’re asking him to do much better.
There’s no doubt, though, that it’s an incredibly important aspect and something that I think is underdone by a great deal of athletes out there.
Can you identify one high point of Andy’s career?
There have been so many highs. His first Wimbledon title immediately comes to mind. The magnitude of it was so much greater than any of us could have ever dreamt. Being in the inner sanctum of the team, we had no idea that the match was being shown on big screens in parks throughout the UK and all that other stuff, but the day itself went by so quickly. We barely even saw him afterwards. He had to get his suit fitted, do all his media work etc, and he sat at a separate table from us at the Champions Dinner. It was probably three days before we all sat down to have a celebratory dinner as a team.
When he won it again in 2015, we were determined that that wouldn’t happen again and that he actually was able to celebrate with those that mattered most. The second time was really enjoyable and a real highlight for me, personally.
And how about a low point?
We were really in the doldrums there for the four years of his hip injury. The rehab was brutal, where you’re spending literally the entire week trying to get one more degree of extension out of a hip that just isn’t moving.
Before the Australian Open in 2019, we had some soul-searching moments in Miami, where he was just trying so hard to rehab. He was hitting with players and they were almost consoling him after practice sets, and that was really crushing to see. We were all working so hard to get him ready but it was just so clearly not going to work. That period was incredibly low.
‘We were all working so hard to get him ready but it was just so clearly not going to work.’
In practice, you could see he was just so far off the pace. I remember in Australia in 2019, he hit with Rafa [Nadal] and Andy won’t even know this, but I went away on my own and was just in tears in a corridor in Melbourne Park. As someone who cares about Andy, not just as a tennis player but as a person, it was heart-breaking to have seen him be as great as he had been and then as a shadow of himself, through no fault of his own.
Do you think reaching world number one ultimately had a negative impact on Andy from an injury standpoint?
One hundred per cent. These things are always a culmination of factors, but the truth is Andy wasn’t healthy for a single week while he was world number one. There’s no doubt the 2016 season was brutal and really took a lot out of him. He turned up in Melbourne for the Australian Open with shingles, although we didn’t know it at the time. He was struggling with niggling problems throughout the clay season, before ultimately getting injured again against Wawrinka in the semis at Roland Garros.
2017 was just one injury or illness after another, culminating in him hobbling off the court against Querry at Wimbledon. 2016 had a huge part to play in that, but it’s worth noting that anatomically there are other factors that influenced him. His hips aren’t really built for the repetitive, multidirectional bashing of the joint. I guess it’s not ideal for the thing he has chosen to be good at!
The way that he’s trained and competed over the years also hasn’t helped. He’s someone who out-rallies and out-works people. His matches have always had those undulations to them where one minute he’s very much on top and then the next minute he looks dead and buried. Sometimes, therefore, his matches have gone on longer than they should have. Take Kokkinakis in Melbourne this year, for example. But because of his mind and his will to win he just keeps going. That does catch up with you eventually, though.
I’ve always felt that Andy is criminally underrated. Had he not been around at the same time as Novak, Roger and Rafa, how many slams could he have won?
Andy on his best day is as good as all those guys. You’d have to say they have an edge on him, given the number of slams they’ve got, but the margins are so fine. The biggest tragedy of all was that 2017 season. Andy was really in his prime then and coming off 2016 he was just unplayable. If he’d have continued that momentum into 2017, I’m certain he’d have added to his grand slam tally that year, and you just never know where that confidence could have taken him. That season is the one that really hurt as someone who was close to Andy, as he was really cut down in his prime.
What is left for Andy? Could he scale the mountain again? How many more times will we see him at Wimbledon?
It’s one of those ‘how long is a piece of string?’ questions. Even if he were to put a timeline on it, he’d probably keep going! His level of determination and his desire to keep playing is extraordinary.
You have to imagine there can’t be too many more left, but I’ve learned throughout the years that you don’t write Andy off. But look – two Olympic golds, three slams, world number one and nearly every Masters title… he’s had an absolutely incredible career and will leave tennis as one of the all-time greats.
Henry Beesley is a Content Executive at Fitzdares.