SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Wimbledon 2013 had looked a lot like Andy Murray’s zenith: an unrepeatable high for the fourth best player in a gilded age for men’s tennis. Maybe it was our perception, rather than his, but the sheer effort of laying Fred Perry’s ghost to rest seemed no bad legacy of a life in sport.
Even Murray’s new logo, with its 77 centrepiece, seemed to speak of a job already done, a number that could not be bettered. The 77 referred of course to the number of summers Britain had waited for a male Wimbledon champion. A curse was reframed as a brand. Whatever happened next, Murray would always have the ecstasy of Centre Court, July 7, 2013.
Scrap that. He is not finished yet. As the New York Times’ Chris Clarey tweeted from Melbourne: “He’s back. Men’s tennis is better for it.”
Strictly, Murray has mashed a 19-year-old prodigy (Nick Kyrgios) and a player from the next tier down (Tomas Berdych) to reach his eighth grand slam final. The manner of that progress impresses more than the quality of his victims in quarter and semi-final. Murray has rediscovered his authority, control and power.
British sport needs this. British tennis needs it even more. Murray’s two grand slam titles were a permanent mark of a very high pedigree in an age when many in his position would have abandoned hope of ever competing with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Wimbledon, two years ago, was a national catharsis, some way behind England’s footballers in 1966 and the England rugby global triumph of 2003, but an epic triumph nonetheless, when measured against the obstacles he had to overcome to lay hands on the All England Club’s prize.
With history and the stiffest possible opposition beaten down at last, Murray arrived at the next big junction of his career. To become a champion is only the first big challenge of a great player’s biography. Tennis is strewn with one or two-hit wonders who came down from the pinnacle sated – or allowed commercial or personal distractions to undermine the talent that took them to the top in the first place.
Much has been made, rightly, of the changes to Murray’s entourage: especially the loss of Ivan Lendl, who found the distant room in Murray’s head where the ruthless finisher was hiding. Thus liberated, the toughest part of Murray could have slunk back inside or taken permanent control of his character.
Close friends have been eased out, and a new team eased in. But changes to a backroom team alone cannot propel a player back to the front line of grand slam finals. They take that step alone, by marshalling their game and stoking the hunger. Murray is making headway on both fronts. Again: beating Kyrgios and Berdych guarantees nothing but promises plenty, because Murray’s form is undeniably impressive. So is his body language.
Federer has reached 25 grand slam finals, Nadal 20 and Djokovic 14. At 27 Murray is a fair way back on eight. Yet this is his chance to return to the euphoria of 2013, and not solely because the Big Three are less formidable. He is making the necessary progress on his own account. Murray’s big breakthrough was actually the 2012 US Open title, which he placed alongside gold from the London 2012 Olympics. In a 3hr 10min exorcism, he then beat Djokovic in straight sets to earn the title ‘The History Boy’, as well as this extravagant prediction from John McEnroe: “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win at least six majors. He’s come into his own and there’s a lot to look forward to. This is a big thing. This is a new face who has stepped up in a big way.”
The following year was hardly calamitous. In 2014 he reached the semis at Roland Garros, where he was crushed by Nadal, and the quarters at Wimbledon and the US Open. For the fourth straight season he reached the quarter-finals of all four grand slams. There was, though, something missing: momentum, certainty, conviction, stability of effort. But in this form he reactivates McEnroe’s prediction. Murray has always been a brilliant tennis player; just slightly less brilliant than the other three, and more prone to upheaval off the court.
One other development stands out. In September he broke cover to support a yes vote in the Scottish referendum, and now he is holding up Amélie Mauresmo’s coaching as an inspiration to women in sport. “A lot of people criticised me working with her,” he said after beating Berdych, “but so far we’ve proved this week women can be very good coaches as well.”
Mauresmo’s pupil has found his voice as well as his form. The second coming of Andy Murray would be a grand tale to lay before a country already eternally grateful for his Wimbledon win.