He started 2010 with brilliance and has since followed it up with gloomy mediocrity. He’s seen adulation give way to abject criticism and expectation replaced by anxiety. He carries the weight of a nation waiting to break a 74-year barren spell, but he’s hoping to lurk in the shadows of the football world cup. What – amidst the mass of contradictions that make up Andy Murray – are his chances of going all the way at Wimbledon this year?
This season more than most has seen our top tennis player put under the microscope – as those tantalised by his closeness to success in Melbourne seek reasons to explain his subsequent lack of form and attempt to prescribe a path back to winning ways. After pages full of analysis and speculation there are no more warm-up tournaments in which to fine-tune. After weeks of upsets by players he would normally swat aside, the die is now cast on who stands between him and a first grand slam title. All that remains now is the man. But which Andy Murray will step on to the grass this week?
February, March and April saw Murray in turmoil. Opening-round losses. Disinterested losses. Angry losses. He experimented with every way of losing and seemed incapable of rewiring his brain for victory. While some commentators tried to suggest that the pressures of his on-off relationship with Kim Sears lay behind his drop in form, Murray was quick to state that all was well in his personal life. He did, however, admit that he was struggling to enjoy his time on the court. He was worried, and so was everyone else.
Though the clay court season started with just one win in three matches, Murray finally seemed to be getting his mind and his emotions in check – putting up spirited fights against clay-court specialist David Ferrer in Madrid and an on-fire Tomas Berdych at Roland Garros.
As Murray headed for the grass of London’s Queen’s Club there was further evidence that he had the hunger for victory again. However his demeanour can perhaps best be described as ‘grumpy’ – particularly when letting rip at the unsuspecting umpire who halted his match against Mardy Fish due to bad light.
So Murray is engaged again. He has his appetite back. But does he have the belief? For Murray to win at Wimbledon he needs to channel his competitive spirit into positive energy and not let himself retreat into the angry, anxious frame of mind that has characterised him of late. One thing is for sure – the centre court crowd will do their best to surround him with all the positivity that roughly 15,000 partisan fans can generate. Whether he can take inspiration from being on home turf may well be a decisive factor in the outcome of Wimbledon 2010.
The luck of the draw?
Following the All England Club’s decision to go against world rankings, seeding Roger Federer as number one with Rafael Nadal at two, Murray has been drawn in the bottom half – scheduled for a semi-final meeting with Nadal.
Possibly even more significantly, the draw has kept him apart from the most potent of the lower-seeded threats that lurk in the men’s field – such as Ernests Gulbis and John Isner, or his two-time conqueror this season Mardy Fish. A first round match-up with Czech Jan Hajek would be followed by Finn Jarkko Nieminen or Austrian Stefan Koubek. His first potential seed would be Frenchman Gilles Simon who has had a disappointing season following a break through injury. American Sam Querrey, having replaced Murray as champion at Queen’s last week, could present a fourth-round threat, with a quarter-final against Jo-Wilfried-Tsonga or Fernando Verdasco.
Murray would, no doubt, claim that the draw is unimportant, but it is hard to ignore what this year’s draw seems to offer him – time. If he can ease himself into the championships without too much exertion, if he can get a couple of straight forward wins under his belt and get used to the sounds of an appreciative crowd, then Murray may just be able to drag himself from under the cloud that has followed him since he left Melbourne in January.
Last year Murray entered the All England Club to great fanfare. He had stormed to the Queen’s title without dropping a set. Nadal was out injured, Federer was in the other half of the draw and even the most pessimistic among us couldn’t help but start whispering about Fred Perry and ‘this is the year…’ This season Murray has done a good job of convincing most people that Wimbledon’s silverware will elude him once more. Just as long as he hasn’t convinced himself of that, the Scot may be in a perversely good position.
Let the patriots shout at Rooney and Gerrard in South Africa. Let the tennis die-hards predict another Fed versus Rafa five-set show-down. The stage may just be set for the counter-puncher’s best ever counter-punch.