London. A scrawny, pasty-faced Andy Murray was 18 when he made his Wimbledon debut in 2005.
He reached the third round where he gave Argentina’s David Nalbandian, the 2002 runner-up, a huge scare by taking a two-sets to love lead before running out of steam to lose in five.
But amongst the first questions posed at a packed news conference was an enquiry far removed from the gentile confines of the All England Club in leafy, south-west London where million-pound homes abound.
The questioner wanted to know about Murray’s recollection of his schooldays in the Scottish town of Dunblane where he was a pupil when deranged gunman Thomas Hamilton burst in and murdered 16 children and one adult.
Murray was eight at the time and his elder brother, Jamie, also a professional player, 10.
He recalls surviving by hiding under a desk in the headmaster’s office.
“Some of my friends’ brothers and sisters were killed. I have only retained patchy impressions of that day, such as being in a classroom singing songs,” Murray wrote in his autobiography, Hitting Back.
“The weirdest thing was that we knew Hamilton. He had been in my mum’s car. It’s obviously weird to think you had a murderer in your car, sitting next to your mum.
“That is probably another reason why I don’t want to look back at it. It is just so uncomfortable to think that it was someone we knew from the Boys Club. We used to go to the club and have fun. Then to find out he’s a murderer was something my brain couldn’t cope with.”
With such a childhood trauma, it is hardly surprising that Murray, now a strapping 25-year-old and bidding to become Britain’s first men’s champion at Wimbledon since 1936, comes across as a hard man to read.
Murray, with £20 million banked from his career, does not suffer fools gladly and talks straight, his often unsmiling demeanor presented to the media often at odds with a man known as a joker amongst his close friends.
Sometimes his public utterances backfire which have only served to increase people’s suspicions.
On the eve of the 2006 World Cup, he was asked who he would support and he replied: “Anyone but England.” It was a joke that backfired with the Scot condemned as being unpatriotic and unsporting.
Britain is just not used to having a decent tennis player and the bemusement was illustrated on Friday after he had defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Friday’s semi-final to become the country’s first men’s Wimbledon finalist since Bunny Austin in 1938.
The first questioner asked him if he was around in 1938 while the second pondered the reaction of his two dogs, Maggie and Rusty, to their master’s breakthrough.
Murray may have bristled, but kept his thoughts to himself.
He goes into Sunday’s final having already played in (and lost) three Grand Slam finals, the 2008 US Open and 2010 and 2011 Australian Open title matches.
He’s been a semi-finalist at Wimbledon four years on the trot and won 22 career titles.
But until he cracks the mystery of the All England Club, the English suspicions of the granite-faced man from the north will remain.