Without a doubt we are now living an era where the top four is the strongest of the history of the game and if my observations of Andy Murray are correct, he could see the biggest changes between now and the end of the year.
At the 2012 Australian Open, whose final was epic between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, I had the chance to commentate the semifinal between Djokovic and Murray. I found this match thrilling and instructive. It confirmed the trend I had been seeing for a few months.
The media has been talking a lot about the collaboration of Murray with Ivan Lendl, who has been through the same failing-in-Slams situation as Andy before winning eight of them. Their similarities have been reported a lot. As far as I'm concerned, as I now see them working, I'm finding this duo very interesting because it seems Lendl really has the qualities that Murray lacks. This is the next step.
Andy Murray is a prodigy. If he's not as creative as Roger Federer on court, he still has the same kind of talent regarding his ball touch, his variety of shots, the way he can speed up the game and how loose he is. He's also a remarkable counterpuncher, can cover the court well and has maybe one of the three best returns on tour. If you add all of these abilities, it's tough not to picture him at the top. Yet, he's now ranked fourth. Why?
Until this decision of hiring Lendl, the Scotsman had never really made decisions in order to reverse course. Until then, he was accepting of the situation without taking control. By hiring Lendl, he's sent a strong and clear message.
During the semifinal against Djokovic, Andy was really impressive. For three sets he was, in my opinion, dominant. He lost the first probably because he respected the opponent too much. Then in the second and third sets, he got down physically. Two things struck me during this match : When Murray is physically at his best and when he's playing without fear, he's better than Djokovic in all the sides of the game. Both have similar facets: good serve, outstanding return, counterpunching on the baseline, refusing to move back, covering the ground with ease. I found Nole has no real solution against Andy. But Grand Slams can go to five sets and the Serbian was more solid in his capacity to keep the intensity all along. I can't imagine Ivan Lendl missing that "detail" and I also think that with his usual dedication (quality and quantity) he will be the one to solve the issue.
Tennis wise, it has been said again and again that Murray was lacking a guideline, purpose, and also that he was relying too much on his talent. Climbing to the top requires commitment and so an absolute respect of the strategies that have been set up. Since January, I've noticing some adjustments on his game, like the way he's more moving forward on the opposent second serves. Trying to take the lead by coming more inside the court and by taking the ball earlier is already a first step towards more victories. During the points, Andy dominates more and has more authority when he's having offensive chances. On this too, Lendl seems to be able to help. He's a man of commitment. He will help Murray to play with more confidence and more temper. Murray's game is rich but can get lost into too much thoughts.
Finally, Andy can still have issues when it comes to putting away matches. In Melbourne, he lost the first set despite dominating. He came back to 5-5 in the fifth set but lost. In Dubai, he won over Djokovic, who was totally out of his game, but let the Serbian come back in the second set when the match should have already been long put away. Those hesitations could make him pay a heavy price in the big matches and against players who often beat him.
Lendl knows these kinds of situations and his self confidence could be shared with Murray. And Andy might get a lot of wins in events like Dubai against the best players and it will matters during matches where a lot is at stake. If he gets a good record against the other members of the top four, it could free him from any complex in Slams.
I think Andy Murray is on the right track in order to get his name on the trophy of a major. It is now a question of time. He needs to be given some, because all the great things take time. I feel he could end this 2012 year with one of them and a ranking of No. 2.
- Andy Murray
- Novak Djokovic
- Ivan Lendl