On the sports front, maybe Andy Murray has finally put it all together. True, some of that could just be he’s younger than Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.* So, he’s hitting his peak a bit later than Federer or Nadal. But, maybe he’s just finally figured out that last gear.
*Murray is 25, Federer is 31, and Nadal is 26. For completeness’ sake, Djokovic is 25, maybe a week younger than Murray. Nadal I thought was a little older than he is, but he sure seems to have more injury trouble like an older guy.
After long being considered talented enough to be in the top-of-the-top class of active tennis players, but not having the fortitude or something to actually win a major, Murray had a really good year last year. He made it to the semis in Australia before falling to Novak Djokovic in an almost five hour match. It’s hard to fault somebody for that, but that seemed to play into the narrative that Murray was still just a hair below the big three. He only(!) made it to the quarters at the French Open, but he gets a bit of an asterisk here because he was playing through back spasms the whole time. Pretty respectable showing on a surface I don’t think many would consider his best and playing through injury. That’s when the story seemed to change.
Murray showed up at Wimbledon with all the usual pressure of being the top British player at the time. For comparison, it’s about like the pressure the Cubs start getting every time they even sniff the playoffs. Sure, the players (Cubs and Murray alike) can say they ignore it all they want, but that is just plainly impossible. Apart from your own knowledge of history, you get the question put in your face time and time again by media and fans. You might think you’re ignoring the pressure, but all you can do is act ignorant of it. It will have an affect. Murray managed the final at Wimbledon, which in itself broke a British drought that stretched back to 1938. At that time, though, Murray couldn’t quite manage Federer, who was going through a bit of a renaissance of his own, and lost in four sets. That led to this emotional scene.
*It was probably a bit easier for Federer to swallow knowing he had just beaten Murray a month earlier at the same venue in an even more important event, though.
Next up on the major circuit* was a trip to New York for the US Open. He again made the finals, and found Djokovic waiting for him. A bit of background here, though I think I’ve gone through this before. Murray and Djokovic have known each other and been friends for almost their entire lives. Being so close in age and talent, they came up together through junior tennis very closely. In those years, and even the earlier years in their pro careers, Murray routinely beat Djokovic, and Djokovic was seen largely as a headcase. That changed when Djokovic just went nuts, beating everybody and becoming the hands down number one player in the world. And to start that streak? He soundly beat Murray in the Australian Open final in straight sets. I’m sure all of that was fresh in Murray’s mind when he set foot in Arthur Ashe stadium that day.
*Which, let’s be honest, is what really matters when it comes to tennis.
It was a dogfight, and it came down to a tiebreak in the fifth set. It was* the longest tiebreak in US Open history, in fact, at 12-10. Murray prevailed. As big as the Olympics were, this was an honest-to-God major. No fudging numbers or having to account for context, like the Olympics being in London and at Wimbledon or anything. No, Murray had finally and officially made the big three into the big four.
*And is, I suppose, though there obviously hasn’t been another US Open yet to test that record.
He doesn’t appear to be done. Last night and into this morning, thanks to Australian time, Murray beat Federer again in a hard-fought five setter to move into the finals in Melbourne. Waiting for him? Why, Djokovic, of course. If Murray can score back-to-back hardcourt major victories over Djokovic, that is going to make things interesting. With Nadal out with injury, and Murray scoring back-to-back wins over both Federer and Djokovic, there’s a very good argument to be had that he should be number one.
That, though, is clearly getting the cart before the horse. Murray’s still got a tall job ahead of him on what Murray himself has called Djokovic’s best court. If you’re feeling up to it, you can stay up watch it live, starting at 3 AM Sunday morning on ESPN2. Or, if you can avoid the coverage, it will be shown again at the much more sane hours of 9 AM and again at 7:30 PM. I’m sure I’ll watch one of those showings, and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the live one.