Monday, 9 July 2012

Should we worry for Murray?

History was made at Wimbledon on Sunday but unfortunately for Andy Murray it was Roger Federer who produced the most telling piece. The Scot's appearance in the SW19 final saw him become the first British man to do so since Fred Perry in 1938 but Federer's four-set victory ensured that it was he who took all the post-match plaudits as he claimed his 17th Grand Slam title and regained the world number one ranking. The Swiss, who had beaten Murray in their previous two Grand Slam final meetings, is convinced that the British number one has what it takes to fulfil his ultimate dream but not everyone shares that optimism.
Will the tears of pain ever become tears of joy for Murray?

Murray now holds the unenviable record of featuring in the most Grand Slam finals without success with his most recent setback taking him past Frank Riseley, Frank Hunter, Harry Hopman, Bunny Austin and Eric Sturgess who all finished as runners-up on three occasions prior to the dawn of the open era in 1968. And while we can't forget that he is playing in what is arguably the sport's greatest era, if Murray fails to get himself over the line before the end of his career, it is highly likely that he will go down as the game's most memorable 'big-stage bottler' for some time.

The worrying thing for the 25 year old is that he hasn't even come close to winning any of the finals he has competed in. Securing the first set on Sunday was progression in itself from the three previous straight-set defeats, but when Federer levelled the match at 1-1 there seemed to be a crushing sense of inevitability around centre court.

Murray's Grand Slam final and semi-final defeats
US Open 2008 Final Opponent: Federer Result: 6-2, 7-5, 6-2
Wimbledon 2009 Semi-final Opponent: Roddick Result: 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-5)
Australian Open 2010 Final Opponent: Federer Result: 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11)
Wimbledon 2010 Semi-final Opponent: Nadal Result: 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4
Australian Open 2011 Final Opponent: Djokovic Result: 6-4, 6-2, 6-3
French Open 2011 Semi-final Opponent: Nadal Result: 6-4, 7-5, 6-4
Wimbledon 2011 Semi-final Opponent: Nadal Result: 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4
US Open 2011 Semi-final Opponent: Nadal Result: 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
Australian Open 2012 Semi-final Opponent: Djokovic Result: 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 7-5
Wimbledon 2012 Final Opponent: Federer Result: 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4

None of the 'big three' have had to go through the same heartache that Murray has over the last four years. Suffering losses in four finals and six semi-finals must be tough to take. Both Federer and Nadal claimed their first Grand Slam titles in their first final appearances while Djokovic only had to suffer the disappointment of one final defeat and two semi-final losses before winning his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2008.

There wasn't a such an extensive build-up to the success of these players. There wasn't anywhere near as much time to question whether they possessed the talent and mental strength to conquer a Grand Slam. It happened for them when very few expected it to. Murray has been on the cusp of success for four years now and has had to deal with the pressure and expectancy that comes with that. There's the argument that his past experiences will stand him in good stead in the future but they could also have the opposite effect.

Murray certainly wouldn't admit it, but his self-belief must surely be dwindling as each Grand Slam goes by. The tearful speech after Sunday's match showed his pain like never before and how desperate he is to reach his goal. The typical scenario of having to overcome two of the 'big three', within the space of three days, must be a draining thought for the 25 year old - two of his final appearances have come on the back of him avoiding the trio in the semi-finals.

All he can do is keep himself in the mix and hope that the tide eventually turns in his favour. If he can manage to do so, there are sources from which he can draw encouragement. Despite Federer's seeming renaissance, the general perception is that he only has a couple more Grand Slam titles left in him at most. Nadal's tendonitus in his knee has been pinpointed as a factor which could shorten his career at the highest level and there's still an onus on Djokovic to prove that his bumper year in 2011 was more than just a flash in the pan. The Serb has been there or there abouts in all the Grand Slams this season but as Murray knows, the difference between coming close to winning them and actually winning them is huge.

Murray won't care how he does it but he'll certainly get an extra bit of satisfaction if he does it while Federer, Nadal and Djokovic remain at the top of the game.

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