Rarely has a loss in a big match ever been so good for a player’s career.
Normally, such defeats are associated with disappointment. Missed opportunities and wretched luck; perhaps a sign that a player does not have the mental or physical strength to contend. Sometimes even a pre-cursor to a nosedive in confidence.
Murray’s loss in the Australian Open 2012 semifinals had the potential to be even more shattering. After two damaging finals losses in 2010 and 2011, he was pipped 7-5 in the fifth set of his semifinal against Novak Djokovic. Were the majors becoming his bogey events?
Apparently not. The then world No.4 was galvanised by that defeat, lauded by tennis pundits and fans alike for his newfound commitment to aggressive tennis. It set him on track for what he described as “by far my best year on the court”, which culminated in his first career Grand Slam triumph at the US Open. His opponent in the final? No less than Djokovic, whom the Scot defeated in five similarly-gruelling sets to their battle royale in Melbourne.
Murray had come full circle.
“I learnt a lot from last year’s semifinal. It was a very important match for me in the context of my year,” he said at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
“I felt like I played well. There was something I could really take away from it. That's why I was disappointed obviously, but it wasn't frustration.
“The way I went about the whole match was the right way. Even though I lost it, also the same thing happened at Wimbledon (in the final). I went about the match the right way … I was taking my chances. I wasn't waiting for the guys to miss.”
Murray’s win in New York ended a much-publicised 76-year drought of British male Grand Slam champions. And as a result, he said he was feeling “more relaxed” than usual the week before a major tournament.
There might, understandably, be the temptation for Murray to take the metaphorical foot off the pedal. After all, he’d already been a four-time major finalist prior to his win at Flushing Meadows, one which proved beyond doubt he had the mettle to succeed at the highest level, thriving despite an unfathomable amount of pressure on his shoulders from fans and media in his homeland.
He cracked the top 10 in 2007, has been a fixture in the top four since 2008, and has won countless Masters titles in addition to his US Open trophy. Having now traversed the tour for more than seven years, he could be forgiven for feeling content with all he has achieved.
Yet he insisted he remains as hungry for success as ever.
“I didn't work hard in Miami in the off‑season to come in and just not be focused or too relaxed or anything like that,” he said.
“I didn't train over there for four weeks to come here and put in a really bad performance. So I plan on playing well here.”
He has every reason to feel good ahead of his Australian Open campaign. Fresh off winning the Brisbane International, he starts off in Melbourne against Dutchman Robin Haase, ranked 54th. With nemesis Rafael Nadal remaining absent from the tour, Murray – should he get that far – will be spared a showdown with another member of the Big Four until at least the semifinals.
Roger Federer awaits in that projected last four battle, with a re-match against Djokovic slated for the final.
Murray said he would relish the chance to face off against the Serb, a player who is both a contemporary, friend and rival.
“I think our respect for one another has probably grown over the last 18 months or so,” he revealed.
“When I do play against him, it's a match I enjoy. They're incredibly tough, physical matches. We played quite a few good ones last year in some of the biggest events.
“If I get to play Novak here, that would mean it would be in the final. So obviously that's what I would like to do.”