"Don't worry about him. He does it all the time," Andy Murray muttered when Novak Djokovic used some possible gamesmanship ploys in the Australian Open final. The world No.1 seemed to be in pain at several points in the match, taking a medical timeout in the opener before twice stumbling across the court after Murray had gone 2-0 up in the second and third sets.
The Serbian went on to win the match, and his fifth Australian Open title, in four sets. "I got distracted. I let what was happening at the other end bother me," Murray had said in his post-match press conference.
The same happened again on Saturday at the All England Club, when he lost his concentration after Andreas Seppi took a medical timeout for an apparent shin injury at 2-1 in the third set, with Murray to serve. The Scot had raced through the first two sets and looked set to seal what would be a seventh victory in as many meetings over Seppi, and ensure his passage through to the second week of Wimbledon for an eighth successive year.
But he lost six games in a row to surrender the third set and go down a break in the fourth. He put his dramatic dip down to his body stiffening up during the delay, and needing to warm it up again. Murray duly called his own medical timeout, and Clay the Trainer may find his services in greater demand after his showing on Centre Court. He worked his medical magic for Murray too, with the Scot also reeling off six games in a row following some rigorous treatment to win the match 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1.
"He said it was like a machine gun going off when he laid on top of me. Literally, my back cracked a lot," said Murray.
In what could be cause for concern going into week two at Wimbledon, Murray revealed he has had his shoulder manipulated after every practice session for the last few days.
"I only really feel it when I'm serving," he said. "It's not something of major concern to me, but when you take a break it stiffens up. My serve was pretty bad after that happened. Once I had the treatment, I served much better. I served way harder. The speeds of my serve increased. [I] served much better at the end."
But Murray has been in plenty of matches where he has played through the pain. That was the case for almost two years with his back, before he had surgery in September 2013. "I'm used to managing that and getting through it," he said.
It is potentially worrying given the Scot was playing some of his best tennis as a result of finally being pain-free again. He enjoyed his best ever clay-court season, and felt he was in better form than when he won Wimbledon in 2013.
Murray and Seppi appeared to finish the match on good terms, however; there was no acrimony at the net as they smiled and embraced. But the Scot's comments recalled the incidents with Djokovic in Melbourne earlier this year.
"Andreas isn't like that. I've never ever seen any issues like that on the tour," said Murray. "It's just one of those things. If someone has treatment for their leg, you expect it's going to hamper their movement. But the next game when you get broken, you're like 'he should be hurt right now' and I don't feel like I should be getting broken immediately after he's seen the trainer. That's the psychological part of the game and maybe something I could have done a better job of dealing with myself."
As John McEnroe said commentating on the match for the BBC, if you ever wanted an example of the importance of sports psychology in today's game, Saturday evening's contest was proof.
"From my side there wasn't [any gamesmanship]," added Murray. "When you're playing at 8 or 8.15 in the evening and there's a breeze, for the players it's not that warm. So you can cool down. That can be a little frustrating at times, But you've got to try to deal with it as best you can. If it happened all the time in every single match where you're having 10 or 15 minute breaks, your body would be used to it. But we aren't. It's not easy."
Murray was keen to point out that he rarely uses medical timeouts - this was his first of the year - and is uncertain whether the rules should be tightened. "I obviously feel like that's too long. I guess everyone could do without them. it s hard to say and have an exact ruling," he said.
"Your heart rate slows down. So when that first game or the first six, seven points when you get up from a medical timeout, yeah, it's not that easy. Then your body can start to warm up again and it's fine. But, yeah, they do often break rhythms and break the momentum of matches, just like toilet breaks at the end of the set when players are gone for 10, 15 minutes.
"I don't know how it affects everybody. But, yeah, in some cases it can relieve pressure a little bit because in a way there's an excuse if things don't go your way, as well. So you naturally are a little bit more relaxed because of that."
Thanks for all the messages of the support during week one... 2nd on centre vs karlovic on Monday.. Fire it up for week 2 :punch::thumbsup::fire:
- Andy Murray (@andy_murray) July 4, 2015
It was the first set Murray had dropped at these Championships (and first against Seppi in the last 16 played between them) but the blip will not weigh too heavily on his mind going into a last-16 meeting with Ivo Karlovic.
The 6ft 11in Croatian has never beaten Murray in five meetings, but won a second-set tie-break against him at the All England Club in the second round three years ago.
Utilising his booming serve will be Karlovic's game-plan again, the veteran having fired down 136 aces in three matches so far. He hit 45 in one match - a record for a best-of-three sets contest - on his way to beating Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals of Halle two weeks ago. Murray will be forced to be patient and pick his moments.
"I feel good. It will not be easy, but if I continue serving like this, I will definitely have an opportunity," said Karlovic. "I like what I do. I'm having fun. So I don't know how it's gonna be. I have a chance, for sure."
"Obviously he served extremely well this tournament," said Murray. "A couple matches here where he served over 40 aces. I'll need to be very sharp on my returns and try and find a way to get as many of his serves back in play as possible and see what happens. But it's obviously a very, very tricky match."