Image: Andy Murray, French Open 2009, by Yann Caradec via Wikimedia Commons
Yesterday’s final of the Australian Open was Murray’s third appearance in a major final, following the ’08 US Open and last year’s Aussie Open. Each time he has been swept aside without winning a set, by Roger Federer in his previous 2 finals, and by Novak Djokovic this time around. The question has to be asked – is it a step too far for the man from Dunblane?
Well, I certainly hope not, and I do feel that Murray has what it takes to end several generations of hurt for British tennis fans. No other Brit has played in more than two Grand Slam finals since Fred Perry’s victory at the US Open in 1936, and none have reached more than one final in the Open era. The much vaunted Tim Henman never made it into a major final, and his great rival Greg Rusedski (quasi British) achieved just one appearance – at Flushing Meadows in 1997. So, Murray has certainly shown himself to be in a class of his own compared to other recent (and not-so-recent) British players.
In yesterday’s final, Murray looked tired and weary and after an initial blistering start to the first set, that tiredness seemed to grow exponentially. That may have had something to do with the fact that Djokovic had had the benefit of an extra day’s rest from the semis, and that Murray was pushed to the limit in his semi-final against David Ferrer, and may well have been carrying an injury sustained in that match too. But, every player has to contend with the battle scars of tournament tennis. Djokovic himself was heavily strapped both at the shoulder and on his knee during the final. Champions find a way to rise above the physical pain and still produce their best tennis on the court when it matters. Murray himself has done that at other tournaments on the circuit, but has blatantly failed to do so in the majors.
He has beaten every top player in the world at some point, and has quite a good win/lose ratio against most of them – Federer included. So, the implication has to be that the problem is more mental rather than technical. It is often difficult to read Murray’s body language, but to me he looked nervous and downbeat before the final even started in Melbourne. In order to become a true champion I believe that it is the mentality of winning under the most intense of pressure that Andy Murray has to take on. Without that, Britain may be waiting another 75 years.