Can Murray do it again?
“Fred Perry, you have company!” reads the headline in Sports Illustrated after Andy Murray won his first major in New York on Monday. Perry, one of the earliest players to join the pantheon of tennis greats, won eight grand slams. Murray has some way to go before he has completely emulated Perry, but the argument could be made that the current British number one’s achievement of winning just one major goes some, if not most, of the way to doing so.
Tennis has experienced periods where a handful of players have dominated the sport for long periods: the 80s saw the trio of Borg, Connors and McEnroe cleaning up, while the 90s belonged to Agassi, Becker and Sampras. Murray, a phenomenal sportsman by the standards of any era, has been cursed to walk the earth with a threesome of arguably the greatest players ever to walk on to the court.
Prior to the 2012 US Open final, 32 of the last 35 grand slams have been won by either Federer, Djokovic or Nadal. Even worse for Murray is the fact that the latter two are 25 and 26 respectively, and will likely continue to compete on the pro circuit for as long as he does.
Long after the last piece of ticker tape is swept up at Arthur Ashe stadium in New York, and the last light is turned off, only the memory of Murray’s victory remains – the memory and a question, asked by fans, pundits and no doubt Murray himself: can the Scot do it again?
The obvious answer for anyone who watched him beat Djokovic over five sets in Flushing Meadows is yes. Murray’s style may lack the inimitable qualities of his rivals, the defensive baseline play of Nadal or the fierce groundstrokes of Djokovic, or the all-round panache of Roger Federer, but he shares one important characteristic with each of them: at his best, Murray is simply unplayable.
If the 25-year-old can replicate his form from the US Open at any of the grand slams next year, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t win at least one, if not more. Murray has been beaten in four major finals before his victory this week, three times by Federer and once by Djokovic. He has never met Nadal in a grand slam final, but the Spaniard has won 13 of their 18 meetings. On the surface the omens are not good, and the overwhelming optimism following the US Open should perhaps be tempered slightly.
The statistics, however, as is often the case, can be deceptive. Federer has beaten Murray in three grand slam finals, but the Swiss is 31, and though he looked ageless at this year’s Wimbledon, he will suffer the inevitable implications of playing a high impact sport at the highest level for such a long time. The title at SW19 this summer was only the second won by Federer in three years, an enviable number for anyone else, but a worrying trend for a player who has come closer to perfection than perhaps any other sportsman to date.
Djokovic, born just one week apart from Murray, has won four of the last eight grand slams, and reached the final of another two. Fearsome numbers however you look at them. More relevantly, however, in 15 meetings between the two, Djokovic holds just an 8-7 record. Murray’s victory on Monday night offered unequivocal proof that he can beat his Serbian rival on the biggest stage.
Most worrying is Murray’s unenviable record against Nadal, losing 13 times in just 18 matches. At just 26, the Spaniard has, in theory, several more years at least of playing at the highest level. A recurrent knee injury which forced him to miss Wimbledon in 2010 and 2012, as well as this year’s Olympics could have long-term implications though. Nadal is expected to return fully fit for the 2013 season, but his knee, even if it doesn’t keep him from playing in grand slams, could keep him from playing his best tennis.
The obvious truth remains that no one knows what the future holds for Murray – the victory at the US Open could be his first of many, or his first and last. What’s also true is that, by winning this first grand slam, the Scot may well have broken through one last mental barrier preventing him from making the trio of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic into a quartet. Irrespective of the ages or injuries of his opponents, the reality is that Murray has enough talent to leave his fate in his own hands. The stage is set for Andy Murray to become a powerful force on the tennis stage. The only question remains: can he take his chance? The answer? Only time will tell.
Theo Chiles, tennis correspondent