About five years ago, a young, baggy clothed, baseball cap wearing teen by the name of Andy Murray burst onto the world tennis stage. As we enter a new decade, Murray is now amongst the elite of his sport. However, the Scot surely has to win a Slam to somehow shake off the Tim Henman sized chip on his shoulder. Murray has always been in the shadow of his less successful counterpart, possibly due to Henman’s immense middle class nature and “Britishness.”
Murray is warming up for this month’s Australian Open by playing in an inter-country exhibition tournament, the Hyundai Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia. The tournament features ex US Open champion Lleyton Hewitt, and Spaniard Tommy Robredo, so the competition is there for Murray to test his unchallenged body against this week. Murray has spent his holiday season in Miami training and familiarising himself with punishing temperatures similar to those he is sure to encounter down under. Another major event of Murray’s off season was his announcing that he will not be playing Davis Cup for Great Britain against Lithuania in March. The 22 year old last represented his country when his country were soundly beaten by modest Polish opposition, and therefore relegated to the Europe/Africa Zone Group 2.
Murray does have weapons to win a Slam, his running backhand down the line is devilish and he is always capable of cranking defence up to attack when the pace is heightened in rallies. We all thought last year’s Wimbledon was Murray’s destiny. The way he brushed Victor Troicki aside and wrestled past Stanislas Wawrinka sent a message to his peers. As he faced charismatic American Andy Roddick in the semi-final with the likes of Rafael Nadal injured and Novak Djokovic exiting in a shock defeat to German Tommy Haas, a Federer-Murray final looked a sure bet. Murray lost in four sets to the underdog, which was commonplace in the Slams last term, the Scot lost to lower ranked opponents in Fernando Verdasco (Australian Open), Fernando Gonzalez (French Open) and Marin Cilic (US Open.)
It is perhaps a sign of the times when any Murray loss in a Slam is so highly punctuated and criticised by fans and journalists. But it would be great if Murray could emulate the last four months of Juan Martin Del Potro’s 2009. The gangly Argentine shocked the world when he beat Roger Federer to win the US Open as a plucky, up and comer. He reached the ATP World Tour Finals, losing to Nikolay Davydenko, but in advancing as far as he did, announced himself as a true contender for the top 3.
Davydenko will be a dark horse for this month’s Australian Open and Murray holds a 5-4 winning record over the modest Russian, but all 4 of Davydenko’s victories over the British number one have been on hard courts. Robin Soderling is a man who can also add himself to the monopoly of the top four along with Davydenko and Del Potro. The Swede pulled of the herculean feat of defeating defending champion Nadal in the French Open, ending the former world number one’s run of 30 Roland Garros matches won without losing. Soderling showed that this was no fluke when he embarrassed his rival by winning in straight sets at the ATP World Tour Finals. Murray has a 2-1 record over Soderling but a calamitous 2-7 record against Nadal.
Murray won many tournaments with sheer ease last season, such as Queens Club in London where he did not lose a set and did not face an opponent in the top ten. However, Murray needs to perform better against lower ranked opponents in Slams. It has been too often that Murray has been the victim of underdogs in the form of their careers ie Jo Wilfried Tsonga, Marin Cilic etc. Murray has an impressive record over Federer (6-4) but needs a more effective strategy against fellow counterpunchers such as Nadal. Murray has yet to face the likes of Djokovic and Davydenko in a Slam, so maybe it is nerves which make Murray crumble against determined outsiders. The Brit needs to step up to the plate and grit his teeth more frequently past the fourth round of Grand Slams as he is capable of beating anyone in the top six or seven on his day. 2010 is a year which clearly holds more glistening silverware for Murray, it remains to be seen if one of them is the promised land of a Grand Slam.