London 2012: Andy Murray ready to make amends for Beijing

In the latest part of our weekly #olympicthursday  series profiling leading British hopes, BBC Sport's Piers Newbery speaks to tennis world number four Andy Murray.

If Andy Murray is just another tennis superstar paying lip service to the Olympic Games, he is putting up a very good front.

With three runner-up finishes to his name in Grand Slam finals,   the 24-year-old spends most of his life working towards - and discussing - that elusive first major title.

But, born in 1987, Murray is part of a generation that has grown up with tennis as part of the Olympics, and the leading players' attitudes to the Games now are markedly different to those in 1988, when the sport returned after a 64-year break.

"Tennis at the Olympics has become a big deal, everyone plays it now, whereas 10, 15 years ago guys were skipping the Olympics," he says. "It's one of the best experiences I've had as an athlete.

Men's singles medals since 1988

  • 1988 - Gold: Miloslav Mecir; Silver: Tim Mayotte; Bronze: Stefan Edberg/Brad Gilbert
  • 1992 - Gold: Marc Rosset; Silver: Jordi Arrese; Bronze: Andrei Cherkasov/Goran Ivanisevic
  • 1996 - Gold: Andre Agassi; Silver: Sergei Bruguera; Bronze: Leander Paes
  • 2000 - Gold: Yevgeny Kafelnikov; Silver: Tommy Haas; Bronze: Arnaud di Pasquale
  • 2004 - Gold: Nicolas Massu; Silver: Mardy Fish; Bronze: Fernando Gonzalez
  • 2008 - Gold: Rafael Nadal; Silver: Fernando Gonzalez; Bronze: Novak Djokovic

"I went to the opening ceremony in Beijing - it was unbelievable. It's a bit surreal because it's such a massive thing and you don't quite realise at the time. As a tennis player you're used to walking out into the stadium and it's like, 'Hi, how're you doing?' When you walk out in the Olympic arena it's just very different."

Murray shared a room with his brother, Jamie, in Beijing ("not a happy place after we lost") but is yet to decide whether he will stay in the village in London.

Despite his enthusiasm to do so, he admits that living just 20 minutes from the Olympic venue of Wimbledon means that basing himself in Stratford could be an unnecessary hassle.

His determination to get the preparation absolutely right in London stems from the huge disappointment he felt after a first-round exit four years ago.

Murray arrived in Beijing much fancied to win a medal on the back of a Masters victory over Novak Djokovic, only to suffer a shock defeat by Taipei's world number 77, Lu Yen-Hsun.

"I was really disappointed with myself because I won the tournament in Cincinnati the week before and I was playing really well," says the Scot. "I think I messed up my preparation a little bit; I didn't quite anticipate how tough a journey I was going to find it from Cincinnati to Beijing and I got there maybe slightly late.

"I was very dehydrated after my match; I remember I had doubles later that day after my singles and - I never really do it - but I fell asleep for two and a half hours in between my singles and my doubles.

"I was so annoyed with myself, so this year I'm going to make sure none of that happens, that I'm going to be as best prepared as I can be, because I realise now how important it is."

Murray melts under quiz pressure

So, lesson learned, and one casualty of his focus on the Games in 2012 has been Britain's Davis Cup campaign, with Murray absent as captain Leon Smith's squad saw a six-tie winning streak end with defeat by Belgium earlier this month.

Some say that a sportsman should always be available when called upon to represent his country, but Murray is far from alone in picking and choosing when to play Davis Cup tennis. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were missing last time out, albeit from considerably stronger teams that are better able to cope.

Murray describes the current state of Britain's Davis Cup squad as "a lot more respectable than it was two years ago", and adds: "Davis Cup and the Olympics are very different things. You know well in advance where and when you're going to be playing at the Olympics and it's scheduled into the tennis calendar so that it's, in a way, convenient.

"Everyone in tennis now realises how important it is as a sporting competition to be involved in the Olympics."

The Glasgow-born, Dunblane-raised, London-based international traveller is unequivocal in his enthusiasm for the concept of playing for Great Britain, visibly engaged when recalling the recent kit launch at which he lined up with the likes of Jessica Ennis and Phillips Idowu, as well as his Beijing experience.

"You feel like you're playing for other people, you're playing for your country. When you see all the flags in the stadium and being part of the Olympic ceremony… it's just different," he enthused.

Murray on the Olympics

  • Olympic highlight? "The one where I remember going 'wow' was at the last Olympics. I'd lost early and was on the treadmill training because I was so annoyed with myself, and I stopped when Usain Bolt was about to run the 100m final. I couldn't believe how far he won by - amazing."
  • Which other sport would you play if not tennis (or football)? "Er, table tennis? I used to play when I was in school and at a lot of the tournaments they have table tennis tables, so I still mess around. I guess for an average Joe in the street I'm quite good but nothing special, that's for sure."
  • How well do you know Sir Chris Hoy? "I've just seen him in Australia and I saw him at Wimbledon. I don't know him that well, just send him the odd message. I've met him a couple of times and he's really, really nice. A fairly large pair of legs on him as well."
  • What do you think of the GB kit? "I was at the launch with Jessica Ennis, Phillips Idowu, the Brownlee brothers. It was cool. I think the kit looks really nice and everyone's been pretty positive about it, so that's good."
  • What is Phillips Idowu like? "I'd only ever seen him on the TV before and he looks like a very interesting character, he came in with some very funny shoes on that had wings on. I think he had red hair as well, it was a very interesting look he had going on, but he was a really, really nice guy and someone that I've obviously watched on the TV quite a lot."

It is not yet certain which medals Murray will be targeting in London as his options beyond the singles depend on which of his compatriots qualify, although it is highly likely he will team up with his brother in the men's doubles.

Mixed doubles makes its Olympic debut this summer and could throw up some tantalising partnerships, with Serena Williams and Andy Roddick a possibility, and even Roger Federer and Martina Hingis discussed at one stage.

Murray has played mixed with Laura Robson in the past but her place is not certain, and Elena Baltacha is comfortably the leading British woman in the world rankings.

"I need to think about it," he says. "I think it really should be about who has the best chance of winning a medal, that's how you should pick the team in my opinion. I'm not very good at mixed doubles, it's very different. My brother understands it a lot better than me.

"I'd like to play in all three competitions but we need to have a chat and see who would have the best chance of winning a medal, because that's really the point of the competition - to see how many medals you can get for your country."

Murray has proved himself to be far and away the best British player since Fred Perry in the 1930s but, rightly or wrongly, without that Grand Slam title he remains stuck in the nation's cycle of tennis failure in the eyes of many.

A career-high of second in the world rankings, three Grand Slam finals, five consecutive Slam semi-finals, 22 tournament wins, eight in the elite Masters Series - his consistent excellence only makes that elusive major win all the more excruciating, and with three of the best players ever ahead of him, the task is not going to get easier any time soon.

That might be another reason why Olympic tennis holds such an attraction.

"Djokovic won a bronze medal at the last Olympics and it was a huge thing for him," says Murray. "If he lost in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, he'd be disappointed.

"If you come away with anything but a win in a Grand Slam, it's not a good tournament; if you come away with a bronze medal, it's celebrated."