Perspective helping Andy Murray keep emotions in check

— -- After he won his first ATP-level tournament, more than a decade ago in San Jose, California, 18-year-old Andy Murray credited his girlfriend, Kim Sears, with keeping him calm and composed. His then-coach Mark Petchey had stayed home in England, and Sears, the daughter of a tennis coach, watched her future husband play a tournament for the first time.

How'd that work out?

Back in February, the two welcomed Sophia Olivia into the world, and it immediately became a very different place. Murray didn't hit a ball for two weeks, something that hadn't happened since his back surgery two years earlier.

"Normally after a week or so, I want to hit a few balls," he told Men's Health in June. "When I got back to doing stuff, I felt much better for it."

After an indifferent return, in which he failed to win a title in four tries, Murray has triumphed in eight of the 11 tournaments he's played. There were back-to-back wins at Wimbledon and the Olympic games -- when he became the first ever to repeat as a singles gold medalist -- and four straight championships to end to the season. The last, in Paris, brought him the No. 1 ranking, a career obsession.

Uh, how'd that work out?

"I don't think it affected the tennis so much, but it definitely gave me perspective," Murray explained. "I had to think a little bit more about what's important."

What's important at this week's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals is carrying that No. 1 ranking into the offseason. Toward that end, Murray has made a critical adjustment. For the first time at this tournament he's never won, he's not staying at a local hotel.

Rather, he's making the one-hour commute to the O2 Arena from his home in Oxshott, Surrey.

On Wednesday night, presumably, he was home in time for a proper dinner and, perhaps, a change of his daughter's nappies. And, rest assured, Murray will find himself in an extraordinary frame of mind.

Earlier, when Kei Nishikori, hitting out of his shoes, won the first-set tiebreaker (on his fifth set point), Murray did not hurl expletives in the direction of his box. Instead, he muttered a few choice thoughts mostly to himself.

That Murray ultimately prevailed 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4 was a testament to his new-and-improved frame of mind. It required 3 hours, 21 minutes -- the longest three-set match on record at the year-end event -- and he never regressed into Sour, Dour Andy.

As a result, he's on a 21-match victory tear and 2-0 in London -- the first time he's started 2-0 in the year-end event since Shanghai in 2008. If Marin Cilic defeats Stan Wawrinka in the evening match, Murray is into Saturday's semifinals no matter what happens in Friday's third round-robin match.

Murray was the runner-up in his first four Grand Slam finals, from 2008 to 2012, and one of his consistent features was an insufferable on-court attitude. Negative body language and a tendency to vent at his support crew were some of the reasons his former coach, Amelie Mauresmo, concluded she could no longer help him.

He can still be a prickly presence; there were times against Nishikori when you could sense the surly Murray hovering just below the surface. But he kept his rage largely to himself, in a hand-over-the mouth sort of way. He's learned to care just a little bit less -- and that has freed him in the same way that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic embraced fatherhood.

After Murray beat Cilic in the first round-robin match, he was asked the inevitable question about the correlation between his evolving family life and the No. 1 ranking.

"I've been dealing with wins and losses much better than I did in the past I think just because I have something else that's more important," Murray explained. "Throughout the year, I'm not having so many ups and downs, because I'm not sort of getting too high after wins or too down after losses, which was maybe the case in the past.

"When I won in Paris, it was great. I really enjoyed that. But then you come home and you're back with your family. You're just back to normal. So I feel just a bit more sort of even-keeled through the year."