When a player has huge potential and reaches a Grand Slam final at the raw age of 21 years, it is believed that he’ll go all the way, break and make a few records, be a number 1 for some time. Or, what can happen is quite the dramatic plot of a Hollywood movie where the protagonist ultimately reaches his goal after failing a few times, and when he does, he dethrones the Goliath and everybody celebrates. Well, the ascension of Andy Murray to the throne fits the plot.
Never been one to shy away from competitions, Andy shone from a very early age of 15 when he won one of the most prestigious junior events – The Orange Bowl competition, twice and became the ninth player in the history of the event to do so – equaling certain Jimmy Connors, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati among others. Few years later at 18, he would become one of the few players to have won an ATP Challengers event at or under 18. Fast forward to a few months later in February ‘06, he’d win his maiden ATP title aged 18, defeating former World Number One Lleyton Hewitt in the final, but not until he’s already tasted defeat in an ATP final against then top-ranked Roger Federer in 2005. By this time, the up and coming Scot became the highest ranked British player on tour, a feat that he would hold on to for the next decade.
As for his Grand Slam luck, well, he followed the same script for a long time and just when trolls were starting to reign supreme, he defeated the Number One ranked Novak Djokovic in the final of US Open in New York, thus ending his streak of losses in major finals in the fourth one. Murray had always had problems with his coaches, not being able to make use of the tremendous potential by winning major titles, until he hired Ivan Lendl – tennis’ very own ironman. Lendl changed Murray inside and out, quite literally. Prior to the addition of Lendl, Murray was the weary one, spending hours on video games which led to his infamous split with popular tennis coach Brad Gilbert. His mental vulnerability was often blatantly exposed as well when he would lose quite a few important finals of his career. The zeal to overcome that and Lendl’s iron-will shaped Andy into a better player who would gnaw the Big 3 dominance for the first time and rounded the so-called Big 4’s credibility.
Getting Rid of the Shortcomings
Murray had the goods, technically. He was always termed as supremely talented with no apparent weakness in his game. What he lacked was a coach who would understand his shortcomings (however minuscule they were) and would help him get better. Ivan Lendl, was that coach. He injected aggression into an otherwise passive Murray. A player who would play all his rallies from behind the baseline by just returning the ball to his opponent was now getting more aggressive in order to finish the points quickly. Lendl, having one of the best forehands of his time, helped Murray get better with his forehands which used to be far more passive earlier. Lendl’s three year reign before a short break from coaching made sure that the vulnerable-under-pressure serve of Murray’s was not to be exploited any more. The lob and return – two of the prime aspects of his game, needless to say, transformed into major weapons of men’s tennis as a whole. The backhand though, didn’t quite need much guidance and only got better with time as Murray improved physically and mentally.
But without the player’s hard work and dedication, a coach is of no use. And, Andy’s dedication has been a standout on tour over the years. The way he’s worked hard to improve his game and match the Big 3’s (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic) level, is admirable. His game on clay courts always fell short no matter how hard he tried. He would seldom lose in the finals, and mostly bow out of a clay tournament before the semifinals. Clay was the only court where not only was he as far apart from the Big 3, but other lower ranked individuals fared better than him and he was well aware. And his decision to improve his clay tennis and become an all-court player after winning Wimbledon 2013 was a masterstroke. As a result, he won his maiden clay title in Munich 2015 and following week, bulldozed over clay’s ultimate champion Rafael Nadal to win Madrid Masters. His first ever French Open Final followed suit this year but he lost after putting up little fight against Djokovic, in a match where the latter won to become the first man in 47 years to hold all 4 major titles at the same time. But Murray’s increasing clay prowess garnered praise.
Andy Murray – The Lone Challenger
In an era where three players have ruled the tennis world, passing the baton of ATP hierarchy among themselves, and when others have failed to put up challenge and faded away over time, Murray has been the only constant. From becoming the British Number 1 in 2006, losing his maiden Grand Slam final in 2008, winning his first Grand Slam final after three failures in 2012, and becoming the first Brit to become the numero uno of men’s tennis, it’s been one heck of a ride, and as they say – perseverance pays off. Well, indeed.
Andy has come close a lot of times, but injury and/or mental vulnerability have always come in his way of achieving his dreams. In a career that’s been known for playing second fiddle every time, he’s tried, he’s failed and he’s worked hard until he reached what he aimed for.
July 7, 2014- when Djokovic started yet another reign atop the ATP rankings, Murray was having the worst time of his career. At World Number10, it looked unlikely that he’ll go for gold ever again.
July 4, 2016- Djokovic won French Open for the first time defeating Andy, who within two years had regained his World Number 2 ranking. But the point difference between the two was a whopping 8,035. Djokovic led with 16,950 (and at the epitome of success) while Andy had 8,915 points. It seemed unlikely, that Murray would ever be number one, and now five months later, Murray leads Djokovic by 405 points and completes the fastest ever swing in the ATP rankings.
And, this year has given him a lot to remember. While he was always remembered for losing all five Australian Open finals he’s played and for losing his first three Grand Slam finals, this year has been a revelation. He’s been the first player to successfully retain his Olympics gold medal in singles and first to win 5 Queen’s Club titles among other accolades. He’s already won 8 titles this year (including 1 major and 3 Masters 1000) with a 73-9 win-loss record with the World Tour Finals still to be played.
Murray’s rise to the top has proved that tennis is not just about beating the best to be the best. It’s about making hay when the sun is still shining. When none of the top players were enjoying success, he has been the only one who held his ground. It doesn’t matter if he hasn’t defeated a lot of top players this season because you can only beat what’s in front of you. And, no matter what happens, he’ll always be a former number 1 and nobody can take that away from him. But, he has got work to do, because let’s be honest here, this is not the beginning, his career is close to being at its twilight. And it is more difficult to stay at the top than reaching the top, and even more when Murray is the second oldest player at 29 years and 5 months, to have become ranked 1 for the first time.
In his own words, “To get to number 1 isn’t about today; it’s about 12 months of tournaments to get to this stage. The last few months have been the best of my career and I am very proud to have reached No. 1. It has been a goal of mine for the past few years.”
In a year when Leonardo DiCaprio won his maiden Oscar, Novak Djokovic won his maiden French Open title, Andy Murray’s emergence as number one, seems like poetic justice. One that fits a dramatic plot of a Hollywood movie, isn’t it? Except that in this one, the viewers don’t get to choose what can happen once it ends, because the protagonist himself would be there to work harder and keep us glued to the screens with his tennis to see what’s in store for us in the coming future.
For the time being though, he deserves every accolade out there. It’s his time to rise and shine.