As the AEGON Championship continues, thoughts are already be turning to the grass courts of Wimbledon and the prospect of a British champion. With just under two weeks to go until the the action gets under way, Callum Davis considers Andy Murray's chances...
"If Murray is going to finally go on a lift the curse on British tennis players at Wimbledon and win the Championship, he will have to emulate the kind of play which took him to Olympic glory so convincingly last summer"
June 24 will herald the start of arguably the most prestigious Grand Slam in professional tennis and, not for the first time, all British expectations will be sat squarely on the shoulders of Andy Murray.
The ongoing elusiveness of a Wimbledon title for a Briton since Fred Perry has been the underlying sub-plot of the comedy-cum-farce that has been British tennis for decades. Each year, expectations are cautiously raised around the country only to be dashed, to the nation's exasperation.
However, on the back of 12 months of unprecedented success for Andy Murray, hopes will be as high as ever that this is the year for a British Wimbledon champion.
Murray has recently returned from a back injury which had prevented him from competing in the French Open but the man from Dunblane is now back to full fitness. Realistically, Murray was never expected to challenge for the trophy on the red clay of Roland Garros, so the decision to pull out was a sensible one if he wants to launch a campaign to win Wimbledon in peak condition.
The time off will have given him invaluable extra practice time to begin grass court preparations. This week the Scot is going in search of his third Queen's Club trophy where he is the [1.64] favourite to win the AEGON Championship.
Despite an injury lay-off, Andy Murray will take confidence from his past performances which have taken him to the finals of the past three Grand Slam Finals that he has taken part in, thanks in large part to his relationship with coach Ivan Lendl. Murray's partnership with the former world number one has been heralded, by commentators and Murray himself, as the bedrock of his success.
Observers including multiple Grand Slam winning American Jimmy Connors, believe that Lendl has added extra dimensions to Murray's game. On top of the transformation of Murray's physique which began to take shape before Lendl's arrival, Murray now adopts the same steely mental approach which made his coach so dominant in his playing days.
Connors has spoken about Murray's new found ability to think more strategically on how to go about winning tough matches which he may have succumbed in in the past. The world number two's triumph in five sets over Novak Djokovic in last year's US Open was a watershed moment for Murray, with the victory finally ridding him of the lingering public and personal doubts over whether he had the talent and mental fortitude to win a Grand Slam.
Now we can remove questions over Murray's psychological capacity to win a major tournament, the only question remains whether he can play the kind of tennis required to beat three of the greatest talents to have ever played the game in Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Murray will be buoyed by his performances in the Olympics on the grass courts of Wimbledon last summer. In just over a month after his heart-breaking defeat to Federer in the Wimbledon final, Murray returned to Centre Court to first beat Djokovic in the semis, and then Federer in the final to claim gold for Great Britain. More than just the result, it was the manner with which Murray overcame the two titans by beating them both in straight sets and conceding just seven games in total in his match up with the Swiss which was so impressive.
Looking ahead, Murray's potential route to the final this year looks set to be his toughest yet however, with recent French Open Champion Rafa Nadal likely to be seeded fifth for the tournament throwing up a likely clash between the two in the quarter-finals. The Spaniard leads the head-to-head between the two on grass three nil and the task would certainly be a stern one. If Murray is going to finally go on a lift the curse on British tennis players at Wimbledon and win the Championship, he will have to emulate the kind of play which took him to Olympic glory so convincingly last summer.
Maybe it's partly the patriot in me, but I'll be looking to back Murray at his current price of [5.4] to lift the golden trophy. Murray's personality polarises the population, but when the Scot takes to Centre Court the country will all be backing him to complete a memorable victory and scoop the record £1.6 million prize money.