For his entire career, Andy Murray has had to live in the shadow of three of the greatest players ever to pick up a racket. But the shadow is growing shorter. For the first time in 11 Grand Slam finals there was no Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic on the other side of the net and Rafa Nadal was home in Mallorca nursing an injured wrist.
Murray may never catch his co-stars in this decade of a tennis extravaganza, the like of which we have never seen, but the statistical gaps will start to close because, if Murray goes on producing this level of consistency, there will be many more Grand Slam titles ahead.
His highly impressive straight win over Milos Raonic was merely the culmination of a three month run of success the like of which few players experience. His loss to Nadal in the semi-final of the Monte Carlo in April led to a sequence in which he never failed to reach the final of any tournament he played, on clay or grass.
He lost to Djokovc in the final of Madrid; beat Djokovic in the final of Rome; lost to Djokovic in the final of the French Open; beat Raonic in the final of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s and, triumphantly, again in the final of Wimbledon. Going further back one has to remember a fifth final at the Australian Open (yes, Djokovic again) but that effort ensured that he has now done something Nadal has never managed – reaching three Slam finals in a calendar year. And there is still the US Open to come.
The people who understand the tears best are the people who have experienced the same moments of euphoria. People like Tracy Austin, Richard Krajicek and John McEnroe.
“You cannot underestimate the pressure of being the favorite when you have never experienced that before,” said Austin. “The weight of expectation is huge. When you’ve done it, it all comes flooding out.”
Krajicek won Wimbledon in 1996 before he really understood what he had done. “I hardly had time to think about it afterwards,” he told me. “There was the Cup in my hands, the press conferences; the champions dinner and it was all a blur. It wasn’t until I got home that I thought ‘Hey! I actually won Wimbledon!’”
Krajicek felt that Murray’s emotional reaction was due to the fact that he knew exactly what he had achieved and exactly what he had put into achieving it. “It was probably accumulative,” he said. “So many factors could have been involved for him to react like that, some we may never know. He has been through a lot.”
Losing in eight Grand Slam finals while winning just two speaks of much frustration and disappointment but Murray, as he said in press conference, has learned not to be afraid of failure. And that ties directly into his renewed relationship with Ivan Lendl who lost in no fewer than eleven Grand Slam finals and yet still won eight. The ability to deal with that kind of failure, which shouldn’t be referred to as such considering what it takes to reach a Slam final, is what Lendl has been able to teach him and, as a result, Murray has been able to play more aggressively.
McEnroe, who has been helping Raonic through these Championships, was full of admiration for the way Murray controlled the match, even as Roanic kept pressing in the third set. “I’m pleased for Andy,” McEnroe said. “I understand what he has put himself through and how he reacted at the end. It’s emotional.”
Murray has tried to keep the emotion at bay these past few weeks, working within the protective cocoon of his team which includes the former British doubles player Jamie Delgado who was quick to emphasize the Murray’s work rate as he prepares for big tournaments.
“We were in Mallorca for a few days and it was 9.00 am to 9.30 at night, on court, sets, drills; off court ice baths, warm downs; strategy talk, they are long days,” said Delgado who joined the team in January after coaching Gilles Muller of Luxembourg for a year. “And what people should know that this is a good guy, a really good guy.”
The British sporting public who were not unanimous in their support of someone they viewed as a grouchy Scot to start with, are now coming round to the fact that, not only is Murray a good guy but he is Britain’s premier sportsman.
Tennis players are asked to compete more days in more weeks of the year than any other athlete and no one comes close to Murray’s commitment to that need and the success rate he achieves.
The Great Scot is becoming something very special, indeed, and as he says with a deep seated and justifiable belief, his best days may yet be ahead of him.