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Bottle job: Why Australian Open proved Andy Murray is tough enough to become best in the world
Oliver Holt says the Murray haters couldn't be more wrong if they tried
Six months ago, the Andy Murray haters were still in Phase One jubilation.
He’d never win a bean, they said, absolutely no chance.
He’d never get close to winning a Grand Slam. Didn’t have the bottle for it.
Didn’t have the talent, either, come to think of it.
And certainly didn’t have the ability to beat Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.
In the Olympics perhaps. But not when it really, really mattered.
So Flushing Meadows last year came as a bit of a rude shock.
Murray didn’t just beat Djokovic in the US Open final. Physically and mentally, he destroyed him.
Then there was what he did to Federer in Melbourne last week.
Yes, the match went to five sets but Murray outplayed Federer almost from first to last.
It was the first time Murray had beaten Federer in a Grand Slam but it won’t be the last.
Because he beat him in a way that suggested that from now on Murray will always have the upper hand in that rivalry.
Phase Two jubilation for Murray’s detractors came when Djokovic beat him in four sets in Sunday’s Australian Open final.
Progress stalled, Nadal back soon, Djokovic untouchable, French Open next, no good on clay. Et cetera. Et cetera.
Well, I’m sorry but the Murray-sceptics are in for another shock.
First of all, losing to Djokovic in Melbourne was hardly a disgrace. The world number one was playing brilliant tennis. He deserved to win.
But there are a couple of things worth noting. Murray had chances. He won the first set and he was 40-0 up on Djokovic’s serve in the second game of the second.
There is no point dwelling on ‘ifs’ for too long but if he had won that game, Djokovic would have found it hard to come back.
Then there’s the very basic reminder that Britain now has a tennis player who has contested the final of the last three Grand Slams.
Remember the days when we got excited because Buster Mottram had made the fourth round at Wimbledon? I do. It only happened once.
Now we can boast one of the top players in the world, a man who has worked himself into a position where we expect him to reach Grand Slam finals.
In the post-London Olympics era, Murray’s assault on a clutch of some of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen has become the most compelling story in British sport.
Some time ago, his pursuit seemed noble but forlorn, as though Djokovic, Federer and Nadal were out of reach.
That is not the case any more. The rankings say Federer is number two but form says Djokovic and Murray are at the top of the pile.
It is hard to predict what impact Nadal will make on his return in the next few weeks after his long absence with knee problems.
If he comes back as powerful and as athletic and as irresistible as ever, he will be another formidable obstacle to Murray’s recent progress.
But after the advances Murray has made, there is no reason to think that the Spaniard would be a threat to him on the hard courts of America and Australia.
He would be hard to beat on the clay at Roland Garros where, when fit, he reigns supreme.
But however Nadal returns, he will find in Murray an opponent who has improved dramatically while he has been away.
He will find a man who worked relentlessly hard to close the gap between himself and the top three and who has succeeded.
He will find a player who achieved a huge psychological breakthrough when he won at Flushing Meadows.
He will find a player who is part of the gang on merit now, a guy who has turned the summit of the men’s game into a top four, not a top three.
Draw whatever conclusions you want from Australia but you can’t escape the fact that Murray’s in the mix now.
He is strong and getting stronger. And if you think, after all the advances Murray has made, that becoming the best player in the world is beyond him, you are deluding yourself.http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/tennis/why-australian-open-proved-andy-murray-1562279