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Where now for Murray?

Posted 02-08-2011 at 03:22 PM by Philip Oliver
Ever since a young Andy Murray came to the British public’s attention, winning the boys US Open in 2003, the weight of expectation has been heaved from the slumped shoulders of Messer’s Rusedski and Henman, and placed squarely on Murray.

Despite the British tradition of placing an inordinate amount of pressure on the man from Dumblane, there was no plucky British fight from Murray as he was steam rolled by the impervious Novak Djokovic. The Serbian’s forehand was laser guided in its accuracy and piston-like in power; a particularly fast and flat return in the first set left Murray with a look of exasperation and a sense of foreboding.

And when the Scotsman did manage to exert his own pressure, tennis betting pundits note how Djokovic’s defence was immaculate. A 38-shot rally tested both men to the limit, and it was Murray who blinked first – a recurring theme throughout the match. Much had been made of the weakness in Djokovic’s serve over the past year, the damning statistic of serving more double faults than aces last season was well put to bed as he turned his service into a weapon that was more than a match for Murray.

Even Andy Murray at his best, when he is using his full repertoire of shots probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with Djokovic, who only dropped two sets all tournament. So before any analysis of Murray’s performance begins, raise a glass to Djokovic, he was truly masterful.

The morning after always is a time for reflection and Andy Murray will look back on Sunday as a day to forget. Although he will be buoyed by another excellent result in reaching the Australian Open final, his third attempt to win one of the four major tournaments fell flat once more. Having faced Roger Federer twice in Grand Slam finals before Djokovic, he didn’t win a single set in any of the three matches. What does this say about his mentality? History, not the history of Fred Perry’s last win in a major tournament but his own history will weigh heavy on his mind, he becomes the first man to go without winning a set in three major finals, and this coupled with the British thirst for a major win, may affect the manner he approaches any future finals he plays in. As Djokovic himself said after the game “you start playing differently” and forget what got you to the final in the first place, overcome with a desire to win the prize that has so far eluded you. Murray may have left it too long, the weight may become intolerable.

Those placing tennis bets note that at times Murray looked downright shocked at the Djokovic onslaught and seemed unprepared. As with his semi-final against David Ferrer, he changed the tension of his strings, he eyeballed the umpire and complained of stiffness in the third set; not the behaviour of a champion.

That he was battered into submission over three sets will be poured over by the national press but that disguises the real issue. Djokovic was on a different planet to the Scot and was untouchable so his performance is almost a moot point. What should worry fans of Murray is his long-debated coaching set up. Five coaches down and still no solution to perhaps the biggest problem facing the British number 1. Seen lambasting his team before uttering expletives under his breath during the first and second sets, his clay-court coach Alex Corretja may be the man to take to the next level if given time to work with him.

Post-match analysis is an easy thing to do; working out a solution to the problem in the middle of the Australian Open final is a little bit trickier. Murray is an excellent player, the best the British isles has produced in a very long time. His record against the likes of Federer and Djokovic is more than respectable, but come final time something changes in the man. After speaking in in his post-match interview of the search for a “normal life” what comes next will define his already respectable career. Whether he will retire in the company of Henman or Perry remains to be seen, but something drastic needs to change, and soon, for Murray. It’s just a matter of figuring out what.
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