By Daniel McAleer
Nobody can argue with the progress Andy Murray has made in the past twelve months. Since losing the Wimbledon final last year, many people questioned whether Scotsman Murray had what it takes to win a Grand Slam. Up until that point, Murray had been to four Grand Slam finals, finishing as runner-up on all four occasions. The talent was clear to see, but critics always doubted his mental capacity to beat the likes of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal on the big stage.
Many people even debated whether the quiet, spotlight shunning Brit even cared. But after the Wimbledon final last year everyone saw a different side of the man. He got emotional. He showed his human side, choking back tears as he congratulated Roger Federer in his runners up speech. He won many new fans on this day. People could now relate with the man that, up until that moment seemed like a bit of a robot.
Fast forward to the Olympics 2012 in London. Back to the scene of Murray’s latest Grand Slam heartache. Wimbledon. Could Britain’s top dog recover from the still very fresh wounds inflicted on him by arguably the worlds best player, Roger Federer. Murray silenced some of his critics by not only defeating world number one Novak Djokovic in the semi final but by getting some form of vengeance in the gold medal match against Federer himself. Critics argued still that Murray had still not claimed a Grand Slam victory.
September 2012, Flushing Meadows marked Murrays coming of age. Murray marched to the final on the back of his Olympic Gold performance in London. This time his opponent in the final was world number one, Novak Djokovic. Murray was in heroic form on this occasion, defeating the Serb in a five set epic. Critics silenced. Murray had now won successive tournaments, beating the top two players en route.
Is it a coincidence that Murray’s rise to prominence coincided with Lendl’s appointment as coach?
Lendl has a few things in common with Murray. Both have reputations as serious characters who avoid media exposure as much as possible. Both the strong silent type. But the biggest thing they had in common was losing all of their first four Grand Slam appearances. Lendl had answered the same questions, whether he was good enough to win a big one. Eventually he did on his fifth attempt, and went on to claim a further seven more Majors. No better man for Murray to relate to, a man who went through everything that he had gone through and finished his career as an all time great of the tennis world.
Murray has clearly learnt so much in a short space of time from a man he admires. He may have lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final in another gruelling contest, but in the first two sets Murray was arguably the better of the two players, and had he won the second set tie break we might potentially been talking about two time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray. In the end he lost in four sets, hampered by a badly blistered foot and a hamstring injury he picked up during the match. Murray predicted a painful evening on Rod Laver, but surely he didn’t think he would be the recipient of all the punishment.
So while Andy Murray has a lot to improve on, he can take heart from the fact that he no longer has that monkey nagging him on his shoulder, or the British press constantly badgering him about whether “this is his year”. He can concentrate on becoming a multiple Grand Slam champion, safe in the knowledge that he has the best coach he possibly could have watching over him. Can Andy Murray win more Major’s? Absolutely yes. Will he? A gambling man would predict many, many more “painful” encounters with the Serbian machine that is, Novak Djokovic.