It is time to reveal the naked truth: according to Andy Murray, Michael Llodra is “nuts”. Now, the Muzz is not one for having a pop at his rivals – he is far too well-mannered for that – but in this instance, his observation is justified.
“I’ve been around him enough to know that he's nuts,” he explained. “You don’t see the half of it. He's always making noise. He's like a young kid with so much energy, always making noise. Winding people up, slapping you on the back, he's up there with the most nuts guys on the tour, he's like a younger version of Henri Leconte. Funny guy.
“There was a time in Miami a couple of years ago when he squeezed himself inside this small locker belonging to Ivan Ljubicic and when he opened it he sprung out at him butt-naked. He's a strange guy but a nice guy.”
Since that moment in Miami, Ljubicic has never been quite the same again. It was back in 2005, the year when the tall and gentle Croat was putting together the best season of his career. Hoping that a little of Ljubicic’s magic would rub off on him, Llodra waited until his prey was in the shower and then emptied the locker, stripped off and climbed inside. When Ljubicic sauntered back from his ablutions, wearing no more than a small towel to cover his embarrassment, he opened the locker door and got the shock of his life as 176lbs of naked Frenchman leapt out at him.
"He (Llodra) said to me, 'I'm trying to get positive energy from you. You're winning a lot of matches this year'," Ljubicic said at the time. "The locker, it's not a big locker, it's a small locker. It's not easy to get in that locker, I'm telling you. He is not a small guy but he’s very flexible. Very, very flexible."
Llodra has promised that he will not try such a trick on Murray prior to their third round encounter but the Muzz still knows to expect the unexpected when they meet.
On paper, the odds seem stacked against the Frenchman. He has played Murray twice before and has won only one set. As a lefty, he ought to be able to make the world No.4 think carefully, but the Scot’s win-loss record against southpaws is an astonishing 46-3 (that is not counting Murray’s record against Rafael Nadal who does not count given that he is a left-handed legend rather than just a left-handed player). And then there is the whole business of being French.
While England and France have never been the best of friends – the two countries have made a national pastime out of sniping at each other, a proud tradition continued to this very day by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy – Scotland and France have had a warmer relationship. Indeed, the Auld Alliance began in the 13th century. However, Murray seems to be on a one-man mission to ruin those centuries of political goodwill and has won all but one of his past 39 matches against Frenchmen.
But Llodra does not seem to be taking Murray’s anti-French feeling too seriously. In fact, he does not seem to be taking anything too seriously. At the age of 31 and with a singles ranking of 46, he is a throwback to a different era. His game is built around serve-and-volley (he finds playing from the baseline “boring”), a tactic he thinks is probably not advisable against someone as good as Murray. No matter, serve-and-volley is how he plays and serve-and-volley is what he will do.
“It’s great,” Llodra said. “I have nothing to lose. I think everybody thinks he’s going to destroy me so we’ll see on the court. Nothing changes for me, I’m going to play my game. It’s always fun to play the top four guys in the world and for sure it’s going to be on a big court, so it’s going to be nice for me and I’m going to enjoy it.
“I saw so many matches where Andy could lose but he won against French – at Wimbledon against Richard [Gasquet] and also against Jo [Tsonga]. He’s a fighter so I don’t know if it’s only against Frenchmen. I don’t think so.”
Certainly Ivan Lendl, Murray’s new coach, will be encouraging to his charge to fight against anyone, regardless of their nationality. He has been trying to show Murray how to contain himself on court, how to control his emotions and simply get on with the job. It is still a work in progress but the Muzz thinks he is getting the hang of it. And that could be bad news for Llodra.
“It’s not that I feel necessarily more relaxed on court, just that I feel more in control of things,” Murray said. “That’s where you need to be focusing most of your energy and not letting things distractyou. When it’s not going well, like it was against Harrison [in the first round], I am able to try and work it out.
“Towards the end of the first set, I worked out how to play against him which was good because in the past I may have got annoyed and let the first set go and then it would be halfway through the second set until I found the right way to play against him. So that is goodthat I was able to concentrate on the match.”
In his current mood, and under the watchful gaze of the unflappable Lendl, Llodra could strip naked and dance a jig around the Hisense Arena and Murray would not take his eyes off the ultimate goal of victory. And, if Llodra lives up to his reputation, he might do just that.