Can Murray make it in Melbourne?

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2012 was quite a year for British Tennis, Andy Murray won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open in New York, an Olympic medal and the nation’s hearts in the process. J.C. Maranan takes a look at the Australian Open and how the darling of British Tennis might fare.

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It’s the new phenomenon gripping the nation, from the wild Scottish moors to the fine cut grass of Wimbledon ‘Murraymania’ reaching its boiling point. Tears at Centre Court, an Olympic gold medal and the first British Grand Slam winner in 70 odd years means Andy’s profile is at an all-time high – but his next mountain to climb is a whole other challenge. The Australian Open begins this Sunday at midnight but can Murray continue from his maiden Grand Slam title?

As part of the prestigious quartet of Grand Slams the Australian Open signals the beginnings of the ATP tour. The extreme heat of Melbourne paired with playing every other day for a two-week period puts a strain on any top-class player. Yet for the last 3 years Murray has been able to make at least the semi finals. This can be attributed to his many skills as a top 3 seeded player. Due to his high seeding the leading players are largely avoided until the quarterfinals. Not to mention that his long-time rival Rafael Nadal is not participating because of a continuing knee problem and the legendary Roger Federer turning 32, Andy has a great chance to win Down Under.

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Murray’s high percentage game means no cheap points are given to his opponent – something unchanged in his years of play. His pinpoint style led him to win the US open in the swirling winds and horrendous playing conditions in New York. I am astonished how many times Murray hits the lines, slowly pushing his prey into the corner, patiently waiting to capitalise on his opponents mistakes.

On its day his serve is no tame beast, reaching speeds of 216 km/h on hard courts. This gains him free points and an advantage when Andy’s in a pinch. The problem is consistency, it seems his first serve almost as temperamental as the Melbourne heat. Within matches and even games his serve seems to fluctuate, nailing his first serve is key to gaining a second Grand Slam title. Murray has almost the exact opposite problem with his second serve, mostly consistent and accurate but is nothing more than a whisper that puts slightly more pressure on the Scotsman.

Ironically, Murray’s greatest offence is his defence; his returning game is rated amongst the best by many current and former greats of the sport. His crosscourt running forehand allows Murray to place shots from defence positions which means he is always in it with a chance. Not too mention is strategic know-how, when to move forward and when to defend allowing Andy to edge out his opponents. A clever chip here, an accurate smash there and all of a sudden the game goes to Murray.

Speed, stamina and strength Murray has all the weapons and everyone knows it but what held him back was his sulky, almost childish behaviour on court. Now even that has been replaced with a new attacking attitude beaten into him by Ivan Lendl, a legend in his own right. The student-teacher relationship continues and can only be a benefit to Murray, installing the confidence to backup the weaponry. Through the chaos that no doubt ensues in his family box, Andy himself prefers to look up and see the calm demeanour of Lendl. The single greatest addition to the backroom staff, Lendl has taught Murray to play positive and more importantly keep positive.

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The Scottish star is by no means guaranteed the Australian Open; his greatest rival Novak Djokovic stands in his way. We cannot forget this time last year Djokovic beat Murray albeit going to all the way in an exciting 5 set match. Look at the statistics and his nemesis holds the cards – hard court wins, Grand Slam ties and the overall head-to-head all go to the Serb. Equally as consistent as Murray, their games match each other almost perfectly the only difference between them is the number of Grand Slam tittles. If these two were too meet it would have to be at the finals, if it does come to that I feel that we are in for a real treat.

As said before Federer is turning 32 but we can’t forget it is Federer. The 4-time Australian Open winner will look for his last Grand Slam title since the fantastic final at Wimbledon. Testament to his amazing shot making and his all court style we all expect the Swiss genius to reach, at least the semi-finals – where he might clash with Murray. Throw the lovable Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the mix, who once-upon-a-time beat Nadal in Melbourne, you could get a tournament without Murray from the quarterfinals on.

With his last win at the Brisbane International means he could go all the way, could. It is well known that Andy plays great tennis but its also true he plays terribly at times, not to mention giving us some nail-biting moments. The key to winning in Australia is to keep these moments few and far between. Regardless of the result in Melbourne, I’m sure we won’t be waiting another 76 years for another British Grand Slam winner.

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