MELBOURNE, Australia – Almost four weeks ago, Andy Murray was sitting in Perth musing over what change might befall him. The articulate Scot was contemplating a hypothetical that he intends to convert to reality Sunday at the Australian Open.
How, he was asked, would life change with Grand Slam victory?
"I think my life would change and it would change a lot if I won a Grand Slam," said Murray with a lilt slightly above the signature monotone he himself loves to mock.
"The pressure grows every year, with every Slam, and I feel that," he said. "I've just got to block that out and enjoy my tennis -- that's the most important thing."
Murray, 22, has coped fabulously with the burden of expectation, not just over the past 13 days in Melbourne, but for much of his life. After all, he has been through far more than most young males of the same age.
He is Britain's finest male tennis player since Fred Perry excelled in the 1930s, garnering eight major singles titles.
He is wealthy beyond comprehension as one of Britain's most richly-rewarded athletes.
He is successful on a global scale as one of the few players to have beaten Roger Federer more often than not.
He exists in a fishbowl existence, having emerged from the relative wilderness of rural Scotland to a life of unwanted celebrity on the leafy fringes of London.
And, in a macabre twist, he has become the most famous -- and uncomfortable -- international symbol of the 1996 Dunblane primary school massacre. Murray was eight at the time. He and his older brother Jamie, then 10, were on their way to the school gymnasium when former scout leader Thomas Hamilton burst into the school and randomly opened fire. Heavily armed, Hamilton killed 16 children and a teacher before shooting himself dead. Murray and his brother hid under a desk in the headmaster's office.
Murray has seldom talked about the horror, insisting he was too young to recall much of what happened.
He hopes his world will be altered again in a vastly different way Sunday as he bids to become Britain's first male singles Grand Slam winner in 74 years.
The waiting, the practice court toil, the acclaim and -- from some quarters -- the ridicule have combined to steel the lanky baseliner.
"It's what you work for. It's why at the end of the season I go to train in Miami to try and give myself the opportunity to play in these Slams," Murray said. "Obviously, I want to try and win one."
Murray lost the 2008 U.S. Open final to Federer with an anxious performance which said more about his mind than his body.
The Scot has been distracted at Melbourne Park by minor back soreness over the past fortnight, but claims it is not an issue ahead of the final.
"Even at the start of the tournament, my back has just been stiff," he said. "The courts, they're just really sticky. With it being only the first, second tournament of the year, you expect to have little niggles."
Coping with the mental pressure against either Federer, winner of 15 majors, will be a different matter. As Murray found for a set and a half against Marin Cilic, there is nowhere to hide in the heat of Grand Slam battle.
The Australian Open has always loomed as the place Murray was most likely to flourish. For one thing, Rod Laver Arena is usually a magnet for only the most serious and respected of British tennis writers. Notwithstanding a belated flood from what used to be Fleet Street, Murray will again operate in relative solitude.
"You don't really feel it that much," Murray said of external pressure. "Wimbledon is a bit different, especially in the lead-up to the tournament. But when you're away and stuff, don't take any notice of it. You know, there's no newspapers that I would read over here. It's not really on the TV that much. So I just kind of avoid it, I guess."
Murray's effort to overhaul Cilic has left the Scot confident without being brash. He has far too much respect for Federer.
"Obviously Roger's record in Slams speaks for itself," Murray said. "He had a great year last year in them making all four finals. The two that he lost (Australian and U.S. Opens) were incredibly tough five-setters. It will take a special performance to win against him. But I feel like I can do that.
"This is the best I've played at a slam, I think."
If Murray is successful tomorrow, it will be through no small effort on the the part of his estranged parents Judy and William. The couple sent their son to Barcelona to learn in tennis' hardest school. The education on European clay left Murray in good stead to deal with external forces now massing ahead of the final.
"I want to win it, you know, obviously for the people that I work with, for my parents and stuff, who obviously helped me when I was growing up," Murray said. "Then doing it for British tennis and British sport would be excellent, as well.
"There's) never really been any tennis players from Scotland. The support that I've had from back home has been great. You know, hopefully I can do it."
Murray insists he has benefited from the experience of losing a major final. His defeat at the hands of Federer in New York could have been so much different. It was an opportunity which slipped away as an uncertain Federer spied Murray's doubts.
"When you look back at the U.S. Open final, you obviously enjoy the experiences," he said. "It is a huge low if you don't win. But I can imagine the high that you feel when you win a Grand Slam is incredible.
"So I'll try and enjoy it as best as I can. But I'm sure, regardless of the result, when I look back in two, three, four years' time, I definitely will have enjoyed it."
This article was condensed from its original version. To read the full story, click here .