A lot of words have been spoken and a lot of ink has been committed to the sports pages detailing Andy Murray’s dramatic fall from grace over the past twelve months. Once a Wimbledon hero, the Brit now dangles his racket dangerously close to the top ten exit door for the first time since the halcyon days of July 2008. However, a forward thinking year proves that the only way is up for the Scot and his performances over the last couple of weeks suggest that he is nearly back to his best.
Very rarely have two men shared as many classic battles as Andy Murray and his Serbian foe, Novak Djokovic. Friends since their youths, with their first meeting on the professional circuit occurring a lifetime ago in 2006, the two warriors of the tennis court have had to put aside their friendship as soon as their rackets clash and the quarter final of the 2014 US Open was no different.
Over the course of three grueling hours, muscles were strained and their mental fortitude tested to life’s extremes in a battle ultimately won by the Serb. The elation on his face told the story, as a dejected Andy Murray left the court, but the Brit should take heart from what has ultimately been an encouraging year; even if it may not seem so at first.
Throughout the last twelve months, the most successful British tennis player for eighty years has had to go through some perpetuating battles both on and off court, with his incredibly successful partnership with the stoic Ivan Lendl coming to an end in the early months of 2014, the man from Dunblane has had to face a constant stream of change ever since his famous Wimbledon victory; all of this whilst the tennis world has begun to move into a new era, with a talented new breed of player rising to forefront and usurping the established bourgeoisie. With Roger Federer struggling for the same domination he always had, Rafael Nadal cursed with a punishing knee and Djokovic bound by impending fatherhood, it could be argued that a fit again Andy Murray could dominate the famous lined coliseums.
And he has shown plenty of signs throughout the year that he is getting ever so close to the aggressive, forever fit man he once was. He may have displayed these signs in fits and starts, flexing his muscles one match, before whimpering to defeat in the next, but he is closer than ever to reclaiming his place amongst the game’s elite.
It all started down under, and with Murray keeping his expectations suitably low, any sort of result on the crimson blue courts of Oz would have proved successful. Whilst some may have held brief hope that Murray may have recovered quicker than the resurrection of Christ, he himself has consistently made the point that he was bed ridden for several months in 2013. ‘I wasn’t expecting to come in and win the event.’ He told the BBC. ‘That would have been completely stupid.’
A tournament Murray has so long flirted with, only to fall short at the final occasion three times, a solid two weeks ensued with Murray falling at the quarter finals to another old foe in Roger Federer and although the tournament may have been bereft of any famous Andy Murray comebacks or feats of superhuman speed, the signs of progress were there for all to see.
It is no secret that Ivan Lendl is the man who transformed Murray into the tennis player he is today, transforming his often stroppy demeanor into a more optimistic outlook and the man into a twice Grand Slam champion. That is why it is all the more surprising that the Czech decided to split from Murray, albeit his reasoning cannot be denied. Lendl was always a man who knew where his priorities should lie, and he is always a man who knew to put his family before his career. So, Andy Murray would have to make do without the protective wing of his coach for the time being.
And it would take several months before the man finally decided to announce who would take over the reigns. In the meantime, despite some sloppy defeats to some of the approaching new breed who were now firmly breathing down the back of his neck, the Scot inexplicably produced his best Grand Slam run of the year, reaching the semifinals of the French Open; as result not even the most passionate of Murray fan hopes for.
But, it would be the news of his new coach that would rock the tennis world in the way only an Andy Murray coaching announcement can. Would it be Leon Smith, Darren Cahill or even John McEnroe? No. It would be the Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, the first ever female coach of a male player anywhere near the top of the ATP rankings.
A move both brave and risky, if anything, it proves that a man so often slated for being boring and dull is an extremely forward thinking beast in today’s modern world indeed. Whether or not the move pays off remains to be seen, and although he has failed to get past a quarterfinal since the appointment, the new partnership will have to be given plenty of time to gel and adapt to one another’s methods.
For the last nine years, four men have dominated the tennis world like no other sport has been. The ‘big four’ consisting of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have for so long battled their way to the business end of Grand Slams, only to become enveloped in legendary battles of spirit between one another. But, over the last twelve months, incidentally the same time as Murray, the world of tennis has transformed. A new breed is coming to the fore, hungry to finally usurp the four big names that have for so long completed the final lineups. Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic may well turn out to be the spiritual successors to the four they have for so long craved after.
However, the modern game of tennis is a funny thing and Andy Murray epitomises this sport; tall, physically strong and reliant upon some heavy baseline play, the man from Dunblane is everything Fred Perry was not. And whilst the Scot may never have the charismatic presence bestowed upon Perry and his lavish lifestyle, he has one thing many crave for; the time to get better. It has been an incredibly difficult time for Murray over the course of the last year, but with brief throwbacks towards his former self, one can be sure that there are many more classic battles waiting just over the horizon.