After a blistering end to 2008, Andy Murray looked ready to finally break through, and win his maiden grand slam title. Defeat to Roger Federer in New York had evidently hurt, but it had forged an even tougher will to win inside the British number one. An impressive showing at Murray's first year end championships in Shanghai, including wins over Federer, Roddick, and Gilles Simon, before a loss to Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals, proved he belonged at the very top.
2009 started brightly. Despite it being just an exhibition, Abu Dhabi played host to some spellbinding tennis, in the inaugural week of the calendar year, and the Scot demonstrated a healthy percentage of that. James Blake, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer again were to fall on the sword of Andy Murray, he looked focused for the challenges that lay ahead. The on-form Murray then blitzed through the field in Doha, obliterating Andy Roddick in straight sets, in the final. Suddenly, the Briton was made the favourite by the majority of bookmakers, for the Australian Open. It wasn't just the British media who were hyping up their only hope either, American tennis writers were convinced that Murray was going to triumph in Australia.
It started promisingly, routine wins over Andrei Pavel (through retirement) and Marcel Granollers started things off, before a seemingly tricky opponent in Jurgen Melzer was dispatched easily, with a bagel thrown in for good measure. Up next was the mercurial Fernando Verdasco, who had been in superb form so far in 2009. With such a dominant record against him in previous matches, and producing some glowing tennis already, Murray was still expected to win comfortably. The Spaniard prevailed in a topsy-turvy match, with both players fluctuating several times during the match. Verdasco showed new found mental fortitude to fight back from two sets to one down, and clinched the decider 6-4. It was a hammer blow to Murray and his fans, he was out before the quarter finals.
To his credit, the Briton bounced back, claiming his second title at the Rotterdam Open. An enthralling final with Rafael Nadal was spoiled somewhat by a niggling injury to the world number one, but Nadal admitted that his conqueror had 'deserved to win'. Indian Wells and Miami quickly followed, and it was another encouraging showing at a Masters event for Murray. Indian Wells saw yet another victory over Roger Federer, before falling to Rafael Nadal in the final. Murray could not cope with the elements, ironic when you consider his birthplace, and Nadal brushed him aside with consumnate ease.
Undeterred, the man from Dunblane bounced onto Miami, and apart from his match with Juan Monaco, played some imperious tennis. Murray dished out revenge to Fernando Verdasco, dismantling him to the score of 6-1 6-2, before ousting Del Potro in three sets to reach the final. Waiting there was Novak Djokovic, an adversary who had stood in the way of Murray, in his first ever Masters final in Cincinatti. The Serb was nowhere to be seen in set one, and despite putting up some resistance in the second, Murray marched on to take the prestigious Miami title, his third of the year.
And so the first hardcourt season had ended, and eyes turned to Europe for the arduous clay season. Murray was riding a wave of confidence when he arrived in Monte Carlo, and was enjoying the spotlight, including a game of mini tennis in Prince Albert's back garden. Ultimately, Monte Carlo was Rafael Nadal's back garden, and it was Nadal who ended Murray's run of wins in the principality. Their semi-final encounter was one-sided and flat, but the Briton raised his game and managed to break the Spaniard and force a second set tie-break. Nadal clinched it 7-4, but Murray had shown that he could play extremely well on clay ; the million dollar question was if he could sustain it.
The remainder of the clay season was solid but unspectacular. A surprise defeat to Juan Monaco in Rome proved Murray's inconsistency on the surface. Murray then ventured into the Caja Magica in Madrid for the first time, and he was relatively successful, dispatching seasoned claycourter Tommy Robredo, before defeat to Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter finals.
If there is one slam which has brought few positive memories for Murray, it is Roland Garros. Going into the tournament with a 2-2 career record, there was little expectation. Fortunately, the player who honed his game in Barcelona appeared at the right moments, as Murray dispatched with Chela, Starace, Tipsarevic and Cilic before being outmuscled by Fernando Gonzalez. An encouraging performance, but yet again, the Scot had been severely troubled by an ultra aggressive opponent.
As soon as his feet landed on British soil, the hype machine started to explode. In 2008, Murray came into the grass season ranked outside the top 10. This year, he had helped forge an elite quadrumvirate of the mens game, and he had three titles to his name already. The Queens field is notoriously strong for its 250 point billing, but Murray was absolutely ruthless all week. He dropped serve only twice, and became the first man since Boris Becker, to win the tournament without dropping a set. More importantly, he had banished the long wait for a British winner at Queens Club.