Johnny Marray: The man who started GB's golden summer

By Jonathan OverendBBC tennis correspondent

When we reflect on Great Britain's incredible sporting successes of 2012 and wonder, inevitably, whether it was all for real, various celebratory faces will play peekaboo in our minds.

Bradley Wiggins with his sideburns, Mo Farah with his eyes, Andy Murray with his amazement, Ellie Simmonds with her smile - but what about the man who kicked everything off? The first time we really pinched ourselves in the summer was when a British man won Wimbledon. His name was, and still is, Johnny Marray.

"If I can win Wimbledon there must have been something strange going on," he says when we meet in Paris where he reached the semi-finals.

"It was a fantastic summer and, as Wimbledon came before the Tour De France and the Olympics, I suppose it was a good start to a great summer."

Marray, 31, from Sheffield, won the All England Club's doubles title alongside Denmark's Freddie Nielsen. They won a series of tight matches, including a semi-final against the world number one team, the Bryan brothers, and on the Saturday night, the eve of Andy Murray's singles final against Roger Federer, Marray became the first British man since 1936 to win this title.

Centre Court went patriotically doolally in a manner which appeared alien at the time but would become an almost daily sensation from the Velodrome to the Stadium a few weeks later.

"I've got a Wimbledon title to my name, nobody can ever take that away from me," he says proudly, but matter of factly, after he has finished his chicken and rice in the players' lounge. "It was amazing!

"We hadn't really discussed it [playing together] until deadline day because I was meant to be playing with someone else [Adil Shamasdin of Canada]. We had a lot of close matches and a lot of luck but I watch the re-run every now and then to bring a smile back to my face."

Now he is back with Nielsen at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, to top the year of their lives.

"I have to pinch myself sometimes because even in March and April I was playing challenger tournaments and not really getting a look in at these sort of Masters events," he said.

"I went [to the O2] a few years ago to watch and I couldn't believe how nice a venue it is. We were lucky enough to get tickets through the ATP and it was a special atmosphere and massive arena."

But the renewal of the Nielsen partnership (Marray played with Paul Hanley in Paris) will be a one-off, a celebration really of their Wimbledon triumph.

"I'm on the lookout for a new partner because Freddie's focusing on the singles," said Marray, who will play Indian duo Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna alongside Nielsen on Tuesday at 12noon.

"Our schedules won't really match. In the long term I'm looking for someone to play week in week out with to get the continuity.

"I've asked around a few people and nothing's fully decided. I don't know yet but hopefully by the end of the Masters I'll have it sorted."

Marray's story is a classic example of perseverance. In the early part of the century he was seen as a possible successor to Tim Henman with a natural serve/volley game and a good attitude.

In the summer of 2004 he took recent world number one Lleyton Hewitt to two tie-breaks at Queens,external-link volleying like Stefan Edberg, beat grass court expert Wayne Arthurs in Nottingham and then, at Wimbledon, really should have beaten Karol Beck out on Court 5.

I watched the match, which Marray lost 10-8 in the final set, with Mark Petchey who was working at the LTA at the time. He was crushed. Nobody, Petchey said, deserved a Wimbledon win more than this guy from Sheffield.

"It took me a lot of time to get over that, I lost a lot of confidence," Marray reflects.

"Then I had a shoulder injury and I was out for about a year. That was a difficult time because I obviously wasn't earning much money and I kind of second guessed myself whether to carry on playing.

"All athletes have those low moments when injuries happen to you but I loved the sport and always wanted to see how well I could do.

"It makes it kind of more special that I persevered and got rewarded."

During his career Marray has seen a lot of his buddies from the old national training base at Queens Club drop out and turn to club coaching. A sobering thought; the guy or girl who teaches Aunt Beryl her backhand has probably cleared more money over the past few years than the Wimbledon champion.

"Probably between 18 and 21 I was losing some sort of cash every year but since then I've been breaking even at least." says Marray. "I wasn't getting into debt but I wasn't making a good living.

"The top guys get paid a lot of money and they deserve that because they're at the top of their profession but for the lower ranked guys it can be difficult.

"It can be demoralising but I don't play for the money at the end of the day. I just wanted to test myself to see how far I could get and have some good experiences."

Good experiences? The one at Wimbledon, that Saturday night in July, wasn't bad. And if the Marray/Nielsen reunion can rock the stage at the O2 one final time, then the perfect year will have a the perfect end.

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