British pin Wimbledon hopes on a Scot who hates second place

Andy Murray is hailed as Britain's best chance of winning the tennis championship since 1936. He's not the typical British tennis star.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP
Andy Murray defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in a quarterfinalssingles match at Wimbledon Wednesday. Britain’s Murray will face AndyRoddick in the semifinals today.

For British tennis fans, watching their dreams torn asunder at Wimbledon is almost as traditional a summer pastime as eating strawberries and cream outside the famous grounds.

But this year is different, and not just because the nation's new hope, Andy Murray, has been hailed as Britain's best chance of capturing the men's singles title since 1936.

It's also because Mr. Murray, a Scot who was once the target of hate mail for reportedly wishing ill of England's soccer team, is a world away from the traditional images often associated with British tennis.

His past verbal gaffes are just one of the ways the fiery Scot differs from Tim Henman, his more reserved and very English predecessor who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002. Murray clearly hates coming in second, something a nation used to lovable losers is warming to.

Murray, whose furious passion on the court has won him fans from beyond tennis circles, has been typically casual about his preparations for today's semifinal match against the USA's Andy Roddick.

The No. 3-ranked tennis player in the world says he has prepared for the biggest match of his life by watching boxing and martial-arts clips on YouTube.

"You're not really going to do a lot of work the day before you play a semifinal of a grand slam, so I just warm up playing football and then hit a few balls, have some fun, and not try to think about the match the following day just yet," he said during a press conference Thursday.

The young Scot is remembered by locals in his hometown of Dunblane as a child steeped in all things tennis from a young age, but with a temper and a hatred of losing. As a child, he experienced the massacre of schoolchildren in Dunblane, when a gunman killed 17 people. Murray, who was four at the time, took cover in a classroom. His teenage years were marked by a dedication to perfecting himself as a player known for his aggressive streak. 

While Murray hurtles toward what many expect to be an inevitable triumph at Wimbledon – if not this year, then next – off-court, his name is also associated with another juggernaut.

Last year, he signed with 19 Entertainment, the management company owned by Simon Fuller, the creator of television shows such as American Idol and manager of celebrity brands such as David Beckham.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sports business strategy and marketing at Coventy University, says Murray can expect to generate around £4 million ($6.5 million) a year if he wins Wimbledon. But his linkup with Mr. Fuller, says Professor Chadwick, is all about cracking the lucrative American market and aspiring to develop the young Scot into a brand on a par with Tiger Woods.

"Murray appears to be ill at ease, compared to others such as Roger Federer, when it comes to the posturing that comes with being a brand representative," says Chadwick. "At the same time, he knows that he is going to get older, his legs will get slower at some time. What we are going to see over time is Murray morphing from being a sort of Generation X tennis punk, into a global brand."

For now, however, Murray's fans are hoping that he can concentrate on one thing: racking up match-winning shots.

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