The unfortunate case of Andy Murray
JUNE 2 — You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Andy Murray.
The Scotsman is quite blatantly by far the best British male tennis player of my lifetime — not too difficult, some might scoff, considering the closest competition for that crown was the likeable but lightweight Tim Henman — and he certainly has a very realistic chance of becoming the first British man to win a major tournament since Fred Perry way back in 1936.
Yet Murray’s hopes of ever landing a Grand Slam event are significantly hampered by the unfortunate fact that his career just happens to coincide with three of the greatest players to ever pick up a racquet: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
In any other era, Murray would have surely already landed one of the big ones by now. He’s certainly good enough — he is physically powerful, possesses fantastic hand-eye co-ordination and is an awesome natural athlete — and plenty of less talented performers did manage to win a Grand Slam during their careers (Thomas Johansson and Albert Costa spring to mind).
Furthermore, Murray has proven his ability to compete at the very highest level by winning a number of prestigious tournaments over the past five years, including high-ranking events in Shanghai and Cincinnati last year alone. 2011 also saw him become one of only seven players in the history of the Open era to reach the semi-finals of all four Grand Slam events.
If any more proof of his credentials were required, look no further than the fact that Murray has already reached three major finals — the US Open in 2008 and the Australian Open in both 2010 and 2011.
So he’s good enough; that much is clear. But then we run into to the original problem once again: the three legends with whom he just can’t keep pace.
There is absolutely no disgrace in not being quite as good as the Holy Trinity of Djokovic, Federer or Nadal — since 2005, only one player (Juan Martin Del Potro in New York in 2009) has managed to break that trio’s stranglehold on the biggest trophies — but it’s an unfortunate coincidence of timing that threatens to condemn Murray to be remembered as the greatest tennis player to never win a Grand Slam.
That kind of speculation is somewhat premature, because Murray has plenty of time on his side. Federer, at the age of 30, only has a limited supply of gas left in the tank, so one of Murray’s obstacles should be removed before too long. That leaves Nadal, who turns 26 tomorrow, and Djokovic, who is exactly a week older than Murray at 25.
Surely at some point in the next five years a tournament will coincide with injury or a loss of form for Nadal and Djokovic, and then Murray’s day will come?
Who knows, maybe Murray’s moment of glory might even arrive as soon as next weekend with the staging of the French Open Final in Paris. That is an admittedly unlikely scenario because Murray has struggled with a back injury in recent weeks while the Holy Trinity are looking as formidable as ever.
But Murray is still in the mix, having battled his way through an uncomfortable second round meeting with Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen on Thursday which saw the Scotsman require lengthy treatment during the first set. His reward is a meeting today with Colombian Santiago Giraldo, followed by Richard Gasquet or Tommy Haas in the last 16, but there are real concerns as to whether his back will be able to last the strain of another week of intense competition.
If Murray does ever succeed in landing a Grand Slam, you can expect to see his success met with mixed feelings back home. His popularity (or lack thereof) in the UK suffers from the age-old rivalry between England and his native Scotland, with many narrow-minded English sports fans still resenting Murray for light-hearted comments he made wishing ill upon England’s football team in the 2006 World Cup Finals.
His on-court demeanour doesn’t help sway floating fans towards his favour, either. Although Murray has significantly matured in the last two or three years, he is still prone to bouts of petulance and moodiness that are rarely, if ever, displayed by Djokovic, Federer or Nadal.
Murray occasionally gives the impression that he believes everything in the world is deliberately conspiring to harm him, and that kind of on-court surliness — along with his monosyllabic, disengaged approach to many press conferences — does little to attract the admiration of the average sports fan.
It’s a shame, because Murray is a phenomenal sportsman and deserves to be treated with more respect than he is habitually used to receiving on home turf. But everybody loves a winner so maybe one day he’ll be showered with the admiration and affection that his talent deserves...if only that pesky bunch of NoDjo, Rafa and Roger would just go away!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.