Home > Opinion, Tennis, U. S. Open > Andy Murray: Solving The Final Puzzle

Andy Murray: Solving The Final Puzzle

The similarities are uncanny. It starts with their behavior. Both fellows love sarcasm, specially the dark self deprecating ones. Their on court behavior — while as different as night and sky — evoked much dislike among most people, while were a subject of fascination by the select few. Both possessed a style of play that was not received nicely during their respective times. Both had mental demons that to be relinquished in order to achieve the initial success. Both lost four major finals before finally breaking the ice.

While we would remember this as the breakthrough year for Andy Murray, it was also the year of gradual progress. As well as he played in ’10 and ’11, both his success and failures were expected. He did what he did best, and achieved results; he repeated what he did worst, and failed. But at Melbourne, it was the first time that his failure was not criticized. The only mistake he committed in the five hour, five set marathon against Novak Djokovic was to cool off in the fourth set, and that was partially because of physical fatigue, fighting against the fittest man on the tour. For the first time, he did not disappoint in a match of major significance ever since the mountain of expectations was thrown on his shoulders.

The progress continued at the grass season, when he won his first set in a major final. On his fourth try. Again, even though he lost, the loss was not considered a bad omen, because he played arguably his best match of the career, but was simply up against one of the greatest grass court player playing one of the finest match of his career. The common thing about the two losses was not only that he showed mental toughness and great play, but also the takeaways from these losses. After Wimbledon, he said “I am getting closer,” where as after losing to Roger Federer in ’10, he said, “I can cry like Roger, its a shame I can’t play like him.” The attitude had changed, the self belief was creeping in, and his game was no longer stagnant as it was in the previous two years.

He continued taking it one small step at a time. In Olympics, he finally registered his first significant win over the elite top-3 by defeating Novak Djokovic in the semis. It was still not the final, and it was still a best of three, and hence he made it better by defeating Federer on his home turf, in a best of five contest, and by which also securing a gold medal for his country. It was no Slam victory, but in itself, this was an achievement of highest magnitude. He believed. His country believed. From a person constantly under media scrutiny, he had become a national hero.

The continual progress took its final step at the final tennis junction of the calendar year. But it did not come easy. He struggled against the surprisingly consistent Feliciano Lopez, showed each and every trick of his artistic arsenal against Milos Raonic, was a bit lucky against Marin Cilic by winning after being a set and two breaks down. In the semifinal, he again showed his best by taking a leaf from Rafael Nadal — and his loss on a terribly windy day at Indian Wells — by committing less than 20 unforced errors on the windiest day ever at the Open. And yet, the struggle had not ended. It took him six set points to close out the first set, he failed to capitalize a two breaks lead in the second, before winning it through a Djokovic double fault and a botched overhead, threw the two sets lead due to fatigue, before finally saving his best in the set that mattered the most in the Open.

It was a remarkably tough ride for him, and it was his mentor — who struggled much like the mentee — who made him tough enough to handle the challenge. It is no coincidence that the start of Murray’s progress coincided with the addition of Lendl as his coach and he will be the first one to admit it. Sure, there are still times when Murray reverts back to his defensive shell, and others when he will feel yell and curse like the world is conspiring against him, but like the other members of top three, he has learned to deal with it and move on. The one who forever demands perfection, has learned that a perfect match is not where you do not commit mistakes — for it will happen rarely — but one where you do not let the imperfections affect you in the final outcome.

This was the puzzle that Murray had not solved yet, and it was the one which had kept the big three expanding into the fantastic four. And as this year has shown, the big three has finally made the credible transition to the fantastic four. Each of these members won a major this year, and not surprisingly, they won it on their favorite surfaces — Djokovic on slow hard courts, Nadal on clay, Federer on grass and Murray on fast hard courts. Isn’t it ironic that we are celebrating the opening up of men’s field at the same time when we are celebrating the consolidation of the women’s?

  1. Rob
    Sep 10, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    A lot had to go right for this to happen, but it was past time that it did. Murray’s been deserving of this moment for some time. And yeah, the opening up of the field is a new development; the last time four guys won the year’s four majors was 2003. In those days it was because nobody was consistent enough to dominate; not there are several guys who are.

    Well done, Rajat.

    • Sep 11, 2012 at 7:48 AM

      Yeah, I’m just glad things lined up for Murray. Still feeling excited about it. It was a long time coming, and totally well deserved.

  2. clarabellabevis
    Sep 11, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Initially, I thought you were talking about Murray and Djokovic being similar, and then realised you meant Murray and Lendl, yes? Strangely, I don’t think they are that alike. I think Murray is a far more insecure, self-deprecating personality who feels totally out of place in the limelight, whereas Ivan has an aloofness that comes from arrogance. I don’t think Andy has an arrogant bone in his body—which is quite unusual for an elite sportsman. It is, at the same time, very British.
    It has taken his homeland a long time to get to know him and understand him—I think the scales dropped from many people’s eyes after the Wimbledon final because it gets a much bigger home audience than, say, the Australian, where he also broke down in tears.
    Well done on getting such a perceptive assessment of his achievement up so quickly, too. By 4am, when I got my match report off, I was reeling with tiredness—though maybe it was almost five hours of tension telling me I could relax!

    • Sep 16, 2012 at 11:33 AM

      Yeah, their characters are not similar but they do exude similarity in terms of how their careers have unfolded.

  3. Sep 16, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    Murray has an interesting balance of Fed’s subtlety viz slices and Djoko’s punishing, physical defence. I wish he would attack a little more and save himself more jelly limbs in the future and maybe his new found confidence will enable him to do that. He has always had the shots and now he has become steely enough to beat the very best at the slams.

    • Sep 16, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      Thats a very good description about Murray’s game. On one hand, the lack of power game (or “junk” game as he himself admitted) makes his game very interesting to watch (at least for me), but the lack of power game makes it difficult for him to win matches … one of the reasons why Fed’s game is so beautiful to watch, because he has Murray’s skillset, Djokovic’s defense etc.

      But yeah, this is a great breakthrough for Murray. Hoping this is one of the many Slams to come (he is my favorite player after Nadal).

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