Andy Murray may have lost Sunday’s Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic, but the 25-year-old has the tennis world at his feet.
Last year was a breakthrough year for Murray in terms of finally achieving his ultimate goal of winning a Grand Slam – which he did in five grueling sets over that man Djokovic at the US Open in September 2012.
However, there would be another word I would use to describe Andy Murray’s 2012 season of tennis – monumental. With eight time Grand Slam winner Ivan Lendl coming on board at the start of the year as his new coach, Murray showed instant signs of improvement in his game, in terms of focus and aggression when he was unlucky to lose to Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-final in January.
More heartache was to follow at Wimbledon in July, where Murray was beaten by Roger Federer in four sets. Afterwards Murray endeared himself to the British public on a wider sense (not that he should have had to) when he broke down on court afterwards.
The old Murray of even just two years ago would have gone into a slump after losing a final of that magnitude but he bounced back instantly by thrashing Federer in straight sets to win Olympic Gold in London.
And then came that magical moment on the 10th September 2012, when in his fifth grand slam final, Murray finally broke through and became a Major winner.
That five-hour epic final win over Djokovic signalled a new era in tennis for me. I had grown up watching the sport in the late 90s and early part of this century, used to players with big booming serves followed up by volleys, whilst most games saw the majority of the play at the net.
Now, it is all about baseline rallies, being fitter and more aggressive than your opponent. And Murray is up there with Djokovic as being the man who can continue to reach Grand Slam finals and pick up more Grand Slam titles.
Tennis is much more a physical game than it used to be and with Rafael Nadal not yet back from injury, it has been Djokovic and Murray over the last year that have shown they are the two best players in the men’s game that can last over five sets and play for five hours where long rallies are the order of the day.
Roger Federer will still be a challenger at Grand Slams for the next two or three years yet I believe, but there can be no denying that his powers are on the decline. Murray’s win over him in the semi-final at the Australian Open was a changing of the guard and got another monkey off of Murray’s back – the fact he had never beaten Federer in a Grand Slam before.
The incredible aspect of both Murray and Djokovic’s games is that they both seem to have no weaknesses at all. Murray’s forehand has become much more aggressive over the last year and his second serve is much more of a weapon than it has ever been. Djokovic is arguably the most complete athlete to ever play the sport.
The problem for Murray when he first emerged as a Grand Slam contender around 2008 was that he had Federer and Nadal to contend with at every Grand Slam and then from 2010 onwards, Djokovic had strode ahead of him too. With Lendl coming in as coach in 2012, Murray raised his game to the next level and finally gained the self-belief needed to win a Grand Slam.
Nobody, not even Rafa Nadal knows how his knees will stand-up to the physical pressures of the hard courts when he comes back in a few weeks. And with players like David Ferrer, Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo Wilfried Tsonga inconsistent in Grand Slams, Murray can be considered one of the favourites to win or at least reach the finals of Wimbledon and US Open later this year. Which combined with strong Masters series showings throughout 2013, could well see Murray become the official number one by the time the year is out.
Men’s tennis has been blessed over the last few decades with magnificent rivalries from Borg – McEnroe, to Sampras – Agassi and Federer – Nadal. Now as 2013 goes on, the Djokovic – Murray will be the latest rivalry for fans to savour. Djokovic currently leads 10-7 in their meetings to date.
Over the next few years, that stat will switch back and forth more times than their long rallies.