Photo credit: Sky Sports
Andy Murray. The man we see as being better than the rest, but just not one among the greatest. His place among the top four strikes most of us as an oddity - despite the consistency with which he has maintained his ATP ranking within the top 5 or 4, he has won only 3 grand slams. Expand the classifier to make it the Top 5 - some may protest - given that Stan Wawrinka has also won 3 grand slams. We do not however buy such a view as we believe judging a player's merit by the number of grand slam wins is too simplistically parochial to be of any constructive use, there are other more indirect angles for evaluation which would allow us to see how Andy Murray is better than Wawrinka, and also deserving of the 'tennis legend' label (apart from being born in the wrong time).
- Andy Murray has reached 11 grand slam finals. Wawrinka has reached 4
- Andy Murray is the more well rounded player: He has reached the finals of all grand slam tournaments. Wawrinka has won 3 of them but never went beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
- Andy Murray has received the misfortune of being born in the golden age of tennis. Remove one of the other three greats from the list and Murray could easily have taken 8 or more grand slam titles. (7/8 is the number of grand slam titles needed to be won in order to establish oneself as a tennis legend, according to convention at least.)
Now that we have established this semi-legend status of Andy Murray and hence the worthiness of featuring his career story, let us go into what we deem as the milestones in Andy Murray's career.
A remarkable Wimbledon run(2005)
I didn't really expect that at all. He's a lot better than me, and I wasn't feeling well. I woke up this morning with a sore head and a sore stomach but on court I didn't feel nervous at all.
- Andy Murray
Photo credit: Tennis World USA
Being moving to Murray proper, let us indulge in a little thought experiment. You are months shy of your 18th birthday; you have just turned professional; won a few challenger matches here and there attaining an ATP world ranking of 400 in the process, and (for probably nationalistic reasons) you received a wild card into your first ever grand slam event which happens to be Wimbledon. How far do you think you would go? I would have put my money on I losing in the first round in straight sets, or possibly a retirement, if I were to not know of Andy Murray's example. In the 2005 Wimbledon championships, Andy Murray was exactly in those shoes. But as upcoming tennis legends always do, he stunned the tennis world with a run to the last 32 that revitalized the hopes of Britain for British tennis, making the fading of Tim Henman much more bearable. First, he stunned the much more experienced and ranked Radek Štěpánek in straight sets, before going on to lead former Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian by 2 sets in the third round match before losing in five. Those 3 days at Wimbledon displayed for the first time to the public Andy Murray's ability to spar with and take down the tennis heavyweights, and thus his very young emergence into the spotlight. A milestone it is indeed!
Double upset (2006)
There comes a time when it's meant to be. Federer won against Sampras at Wimbledon [five years ago] and that was a moment when you looked at him and said this guy's special.
- Andy Murray
Photo credit: Irish Examiner
The 2006 ATP season treated the teenager very well for his age. His uneventful accomplishments include ending Tim Henman's seven-year run as British world number one on February 27; reached the fourth round of Wimbledon and the US Open, and reached the semifinals of a masters tournament at the Rogers Cup, and his first ATP title at San Jose. Such achievements although impressive for a bloke his age, are not eventful as they merely demonstrate an increasing maturity in his talent, which was expected to happen given the massive potential he displayed the previous year. What the astonishing achievements of his this year were - astonishing because they broke and superseded expectations of what Murray could have achieved during this time - were his upsets over Andy Roddick and Roger Federer. Since 2004, no other persons have played in the Wimbledon finals except Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. Beating (or rather trouncing) Andy Roddick - who was the 4th seed in the tournament - plunged Murray into the realm of the top guns. This was his first major win over someone within the top 5 in a grand slam. I shall not express exclamation at such a feat, for that is nothing compared to what followed a month later, when Murray similar trouncing fashion, wiped over Roger Federer in straight sets at the Cincinnati Masters. The win is particularly significant because the fast hard courts of Cincinnati are more suited to the rapid-fire playing style of Roger Federer, whereas Andy Murray being the counter-puncher would prefer slower courts more conducive to longer rallies. Such breakthroughs deserve the label 'milestone' indeed!
First grand slam final (2008)
I don't think he has changed his game a whole lot since the first time I played him and I really thought he would have done. He is going to have to grind it very hard in the next few years if he is going to play this way. He stands way behind the court. You have to do a lot of running and he tends to wait for the mistakes of his opponent. I gave him the mistakes but overall in a 15-year career you want to look to win a point more often rather than wait for the other guy to miss. Who knows, he might surprise us all.
- Roger Federer
Photo credit: Sky Sports
2008 was a year of firsts for the then still very young man, who was aged 21. It was in this milestone-of-a-year that he reached his first grand slam quarter-finals at Wimbledon, won his first Masters 1000 tournament at Cincinnati, but more importantly he reached his first grand slam final at the US Open 2008. Like most other breakthroughs (by himself or some other featured player) as defined by us, these events are breakthroughs not simply because they are firsts, but also because they proved something about the player wrong. Federer's evaluation of Murray's chances at the bigger prizes was not a lone one; critics, fans or anyone from the tennis world really did not believe that Murray could reach the very top with a game style that is almost purely defensive. Every small chance within points need to be seized at the earliest of moments - the more pro-activity and aggression so the logic goes, the more you would set yourself out to win in this zero-sum game. With his defeat of Djokovic and Nadal, to claim the Cincinnati crown and reach the US Open finals respectively, Murray had just undertaken what seemed like a bulldozing of such a widespread assumption. Here is Murray the man, once again breaking barriers, once again bringing massive pleasant surprises (for some and not others). No wonder we deem this year to be a milestone in his career...
The Lendl factor (2012-2013, 2016)
Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo credit: BBC
There may come a time (or a few times) in your sports journey when you feel like you've hit the wall. No matter how hard you work the way you have been working, you just can't seem to go any further, although you know you can. Is there a deficiency in my technique? Or is it more to do with my style of play which would need a complete reconstruction? Or is it mainly because of some barely-noticeable psychological reason doing its misdeed? You may yourself questions like such, but attempt on your own to solve this problem of stalled improvement, and you would most likely find it straight-out impossible. There are simply too many possible variables affecting your game for you to take in and evaluate. Have you ever watched a public chess game and made comments (both/either to yourself and people around you) about how the better move would have been such and such. And guess what, you happen to almost be right in such judgments. As intelligent or skilled you may be as a neutral observer of the game, your analytical acumen always seemed to drop by tonnes when you swap places with the chess player being watched. In place of the sharp and fast judgments, are countless doubts and confusions about each and every move you make. I can't do this? What's the next move that I should best make, I don't have a clue! That is why any sporting great needs a mentor, especially in their moments of doubt or stasis. Like the neutral observer of a chess game to a player of the game, the sporting mentor sees the main decisions that the athlete has to make to improve his game, bringing force and decisiveness to what was shortly before confusion and paralysis. As a trusted neutral observer, the sporting athlete - through a close active relationship that involves a mixture of unique companionship and discipline - could overcome the athlete's very strong instinct to simply follow his gut and compel him to work on what is right instead.
I need Ivan Lendl if I am to stay as world No 1
- Andy Murray
Ivan Lendl was just such a mentor figure to Andy Murray. Leveraging on the iron grit that he is most famous for, he transformed (or elevated) Andy Murray in no way any of his previous coaches or himself could have done. Andy Murray, known for losing at grand slam semi-finals and finals where a constant aggressive posture throughout the match is crucial, turned into the bullfighter that was the opposite of his playing nature. The first signs already showed barely weeks into Lendl's appointment, when his unprecedented care to strike every ball as early as possible (apart from quite a few bouts of concentration-loss) brought him a break away from sealing the match. Months later he reached his first Wimbledon final, and then a month afterwards won his first grand slam at the US Open with the aggressive game that was typical of him since the year's beginning. The apotheosis of such a wonderfully constructive partnership was Wimbledon 2013 - Murray in stunning aggressive fashion, mowed over Djokovic in straight sets. Fast forward three years, and most probably not co-incidentally, Murray won his second Wimbledon title shortly after he and Lendl re-partnered... What are you waiting for folks, should you not also seek out a mentor for your game?
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