Murray claims he is ready to handle pressure and realise a nation’s hopes

ENGLAND expects and British No 1 Andy Murray admits there is “a lot riding on Wimbledon.”

Andy Murray

However, the 26-year-old would not have it any other way, insisting he is actually better at dealing with pressure with the hopes of a nation resting with him.

In-form Murray admits he finds the build-up to Wimbledon difficult but that he loves playing in front of a home crowd.

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Last year, SW19 proved to be an emotional rollercoaster for the Scot, as he lost in the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer.

He then went on to beat the Swiss player a few weeks later at the same venue to take the Olympic gold medal.

This year, Murray approaches Wimbledon following a morale-boosting success at Queen’s – and with plenty of experience of dealing with a frenzied nation’s hopes safe in the locker as well.

“There’s a lot riding on Wimbledon,” said Murray.

“But I’m better equipped to deal with the pressures and understand how I need to play matches when I get to the latter stages of the big events.

“The US Open win has eased pressure on myself, definitely, because winning a grand slam was the aim behind every practice session I have ever put myself through.

“I deal with it as best I can, knowing that I’ve played some of my best tennis at Wimbledon over the course of my career.

“It’s the build-up that’s difficult. People follow me everywhere and there are more strains on my time. Once the tournament starts, it’s great.

“I try to manage my energy well and fit in the extra commitments around training, practice and rest.

“I love playing in front of the home crowd. I want to draw upon the incredible atmosphere I experienced at the Olympics.

“That bubble of a positive atmosphere brought out the best in athletes. And of course it’s nice to come home every night and sleep in my own bed, and have friends and family around.”

Murray, a general 3-1 third-favourite for 2013 Wimbledon joy, says missing the recent French Open due to a back injury was “really hard”.

“I haven’t missed a slam for six years,” he said.

“All my training goes into being ready for the slams, but you have to try to find a positive.

“I’ll be short of match practice, but, hopefully, I’ll have had more time on the grass courts and have a bit of a head start.”

Murray, ranked No 2 in the world and seeded second, is certainly not intent on a repeat of last year’s final loss – of which he has never watched a replay of.

Murray described how after the tournament, he dreamt he had won, suffering renewed disappointment when he woke.

But the Scot managed to recover from the painful loss, saying: “Something had changed. Those two weeks before the Olympics were the best I’ve ever played in practice. That was the first time that I responded really well after a painful loss.”

The man most likely to inflict this year’s pain, according to the bookies at least, is market leader Novak Djokovic.

The Serbian is world No 1 by a country mile right now.

On Sunday, July 7, the chances are that he will wrap his arms around Wimbledon’s famous men’s singles gold trophy for a second time.

It is perhaps Djokovic’s movement which is his greatest asset. It allows him to stay in the point, to defend as if his life depended upon it before counter-attacking from seemingly hopeless positions.

This year at Wimbledon, Djokovic, who fought and narrowly lost an epic five-set semi-final battle against Nadal in Paris earlier this month, could have the edge over his closest rivals.

Murray goes there with doubts over his fitness after missing the French Open with a back injury which has been a nagging problem for some time. That’s a pity.

The support of the home crowd always gives the Scot an edge but it is a big task to slot straight back into the groove after missing a key part of the season.

So can Nadal win his third Wimbledon title?

It would be silly to rule out the Spaniard but grass is far from his favourite surface as was proved last year by his shock second round defeat by Lukas Rosol, a player then ranked 100 in the world.

Despite claiming a record eighth French Open singles title at his beloved Roland Garros this month, however, Nadal still has to be wary of his body and strapping still betrays the tendinitis which threatened his career and saw him pull out of the Olympics and the US Open last year and the Australian Open in January.

That brings us to Federer, the reigning champion, the seven-times Wimbledon champion, the 17-major winner.

Yes, he could win one more time, too, at the age of 31 if he has a fortnight when he rediscovers some of the stardust which once flowed so consistently from his racket.

But it is a long shot. Everything, slower feet, inconsistent backhand, absence of aura, points to the fading of the light where Federer’s career is concerned.

There are no other contenders. Not really. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could cause a shock or two. So could Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro, but it is a real stretch to see anyone outside the big four ultimately holding the trophy.

In a women’s game which still lacks a depth of quality, it comes down to two, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova though some will say watch out for Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska.

But that would be to underestimate the force of nature which is Williams, who, at 31, is playing some of the most dynamic tennis of her career.

Williams, who took her grand slam singles haul to 16 at the French Open, has additional motivation at Wimbledon. A sixth singles trophy would see her overtake absent sister Venus’s haul of five titles and bring their domination of Wimbledon to 11 triumphs in 14 tournaments since Venus first claimed the aptly-named Venus Rosewater Dish in 2000.

Right now, Serena’s serve is too strong, her groundstrokes too penetrating and her mind too focused to see anything other than the most prolific family in tennis making even more history.

Expect Djokovic and Serena to be holding court at the Wimbledon Ball.