THE ROAR is gone, replaced by tears and the self-deprecating humour of the beaten, while mutterings about being a perennial nearly-man, a true heir to Tim Henman, have resurfaced. But in the aftermath of Andy Murray’s latest failure to win the Grand Slam title he craves so much, there remains great cause for the Briton to be optimistic.
Foremost, Murray is still improving. His defeat to Roger Federer in Sunday’s Australian Open final may have come in straight sets, but he made arguably the greatest player of all time work far harder than in their previous final meeting, at the 2008 US Open. Factor in that Murray had never been beyond the fourth round in Melbourne before, and that he has climbed back up to No3 in the world rankings, and it starts to look sunnier.
Now he is 22, critics are growing impatient for the Scot to realise his promise. After all, Spain’s Rafael Nadal had won six Grand Slams by the same age. But Federer did not begin to hoard major titles until after his 22nd birthday, winning a Grand Slam at the 17th attempt. Murray has just played his 17th, so to panic at this stage would appear to be premature.
Indeed, circumstances suggest this year could offer Murray’s best chance yet of snaring that elusive Slam. Nadal looks a shadow of the powerhouse of old and, with his chronic knee trouble resurfacing, there remain serious doubts as to whether he will ever be the same player. That leaves Murray as the most consistent challenger to
Federer who, although he shows no signs of deterioration, is not getting any younger and has been undone by Murray’s vigour on six previous occasions.
It is said that the best sportsmen have to learn to lose before they can learn to win. Hackneyed though that maxim may be, if it has any value then Murray, who knows far more than Henman, his predecessor as British
No1, about coming second in a major tournament, is surely on the cusp of taking the next step.