Olympic gold and silver medals. A maiden US Open and Grand Slam triumph. Voted the third best British sportsperson in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. As Andy Murray leaves behind the biggest year in his career so far, Sport Britain takes a look at a man who has finally come of age and deserves his place in the “Big Four”.
Andy Murray isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. On the outside, he appears moody, not willing to let anyone in on how he’s feeling, whether he’s winning or losing. There was “that” out-of-context quote about the England football team that subsequently saw him labelled as “Scottish”. Which he is, obviously, but many people south of the border still refuse to support the Brit, not taking him in as one of their own. Pathetic, really. But are attitudes changing?
The turning point may well have been Wimbledon 2012. Already the only tennis that the majority of the casual sporting audience cares about throughout the year, Murray disposed of many a challenger along the way and found himself in the final, making him the first male British player to reach the singles final since Bunny Austin in 1938. Murray took the lead against Roger Federer and the world dared to dream. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as the Swiss legend roared back and stole the trophy from Murray’s clutches. In the following few minutes, he endeared the whole of the country to him. He let his emotions run riot, bursting into tears from the crushing defeat and the nearness of victory – but also from all of the home support. There were hardly any “Come on, Tim!”s for once. Perhaps now the country believed that he could soon be the man to change Britain’s Grand Slam fortunes.
Strangely enough, that’s what he did.
First, he had a quick stop-off back at Wimbledon, claiming the gold medal for Great Britain with a thumping straight sets win against Federer before grabbing silver with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles final. Ideal preparation, then, for a US Open competition that Murray states is the best tournament in the world. Defeating Novak Djokovic in the final made him cry all over again but what a difference a few weeks can make. Murray was now a Grand Slam winner, just like Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal before him. Now he can really class himself in the same group as the three greats, rather than just an “inbetweener” above the group of David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
As it happens, it’s more of a “Big Three”, these days. Nadal missed the second half of 2012 and, just when it looked like he was ready to get back in the swing of things, he pulled out of the Australian Open. Seeded third, Murray is still likely to have to face the other two top seeds in order to claim the trophy he’s been so close to for so long. Final appearances in 2010 and 2011, as well as a semi-final loss to Djokovic last year – it’s almost destined to happen.
Whatever happens here, the rest of 2013 is almost a blank state. Murray has already defended the only non-Grand Slam title he picked up in 2012, defeating up-and-coming Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the final of the Brisbane International. He’s been close on several other competitions, but 2013 needs to be the year he picks up more prizes, as well as improving on the six non-Olympic finals he reached previously.
So, can Andy Murray improve on his current ranking of third and break into the top two – maybe even challenge for the top spot? It’s a very tough act. It took long enough to get this far and it’s perhaps only because of Nadal’s unfortunate injury. Roger Federer may be getting old and participating in fewer tournaments, but the natural talent is so obviously still there. On the upside, Murray has maintained his positive head-to-head record against him that there’s always a chance that he’ll see off Roger when it’s necessary. Djokovic is the biggest hurdle. 2012 may not have quite been the huge year that 2011 was but, by winning the ATP World Tour Finals and maintaining the number one spot, he still carries the momentum necessary to be the biggest force in tennis.
It’s not an impossible task for Andy Murray, but his mind won’t even be on the rankings. He needs to be focused on improving as a player and winning more Grand Slams. The pressure on him at the Australian Open after winning the last major will be enormous, but it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t do it this time. He’s still young and has many years left at this level.
Having such a strong British number one can only be encouraging to the likes of Jamie Baker and James Ward, who are in the midst of qualifying for Australia. His team-up with Laura Robson in the Olympic doubles competition was a huge boost for her and she’s since, along with Heather Watson, gone on to big things – and it’s nowhere near the end for them. Andy Murray is a huge gem in British sport’s crown and the good news is that he isn’t going anywhere any time soon.