Sitting on his haunches with a face hidden between hands, Andy Murray didn’t cut a figure worthy of a Grand Slam winner. The capacity crowd clapped and yelled in anticipation to witness something that would someday make a story worth regaling with friends and grandchildren. Instead, they were in for a disappointment as the 6’3” figure rose and began his walk to embrace his opponent in the final of the 2012 US Open standing equally exhausted at the other side of the net.
His rival, Novak Djokovic, had once amazed everyone present at the Wimbledon Centre Court celebrating his triumph over Rafael Nadal by feasting on the grass of the hallowed turf.
It was obvious that everyone, praying for Murray to end Britain’s 76-year wait for a major title, expected him to exhibit a flurry of emotions after the win. A wild celebration to release the frustration of coming so close on several occasions in the past and yet returning empty handed. But for someone so used to dejection at the last hurdle, crossing the final hurdle can be overwhelming. Probably that might have been the case with Murray’s stoicism.
To see your name in an elite list which boasts the names of Arthur Ashe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is nothing short of a dream. Murray’s moment of glory arrived when he overcame defending champion Djokovic in September this year to lift the coveted US Open trophy. This wa
s his fifth appearance in a Grand slam final. On four occasions he had tasted defeat.
The fifth changed it all.
2012 was a golden year for the 25-year-old Scot; he not only ended Britain’s Grand Slam drought but also won the men’s singles Olympics tennis gold. Winning the Olympic medal was also a revenge of sorts for Murray as it was on the Centre Court in Wimbledon that Roger Federer had denied him a slice of history in July. That would have made for glorious storytelling — a fairytale end to a seven-decade long wait in front of the home crowd.
Under the guidance of former player Ivan Lendl, a tennis legend himself, Murray has left behind bittersweet memories that had made him a figure to sympathise with. His tears after losing to Roger Federer at the Australian Open (2010) final and in Wimbledon this year, speak volumes of the physically and psychologically draining sessions directed towards one single ambition.
And it was at the Rod Laver arena where he began showing glimpses of a definitive attitude that was, in part, moulded by Lendl. There he lost a marathon semi-final to eventual winner Djokovic. Along came the French Open, and his errors and inability to pounce upon the opportunities led to his exit from the quarter-finals at the hands of David Ferrer.
At Wimbledon, he became the first Briton since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the final where he was eventually beaten by Federer.
The moment to shed tears of joy finally came in Arthur Ashe stadium.
Leaving aside the aberration of Roland Garros, Murray seemed to be approaching his title one step at a time (Australian Open (SF), French Open (QF), Wimbledon (F), US Open (W). A significant contribution to this has been Lendl who instilled in him a self belief — to use his forehand as a weapon than to just return the ball back into play. With more power and sting in this particular shot, his opponents now have to be more wary of him. It is not a weakness that Murray was unaware of. But the reason why he wasn’t able to overcome it was solely the work of self doubt and lack of confidence.
Lendl has cleared his mind and made him more expressive. Of course, mental conditioning aside, it is Murray who ultimately translated all those hours of practice into ironing out his flaws.
Still, there are few loopholes in his game. One of them is the weak second serve, which, if he sharpens, might see him surpassing Federer, Djokovic and Nadal and taking the world’s number one tag of men’s singles tennis player in 2013.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)