First of all, let me just say that this title has nothing whatsoever to do with sour grapes since Murray overtook Roger in the rankings today. It’s the first time in a very long time that Roger is outside the top three, but at the same time it matters very little. We know that Roger has been declining for a while now, and he won’t remain at the top of the rankings forever. That doesn’t mean he can’t go up the rankings again, but eventually he will slide down the rankings. The point is it makes no difference if you are three or four in the rankings because you will still either get number one or two in the semis of slams. It may even work out good for Roger so that he will get to play Nadal in the semis of slams for a change. That way there will be less pressure against Nadal than facing him in the final, and for once we can see different match ups in the slam semis.
A Djokovic/Murray and Fedal semis would be like a breathe of fresh air after the ATP have insisted it be the other way around for ages now. Then you also have the possibility of a Roger/Djokovic final which have been a much more competitive match up than the Djokovic/Nadal one. But I am not holding my breath. The ATP seems intent on having Roger and Nadal on different sides of the draw. Rather than getting to number three in the rankings, I would congratulate Murray in winning three tournaments in a row on the Asian swing. He has already been to number two in the rankings, but I don’t think he has won three events in a row. However, Murray has won many tournaments below slam and Masters Cup level, and of the top three he only beat Nadal once in those three events. Moreover, Murray always does well in the Asian swing.
Why? Because the top three is usually spent at the end of the year after taking the spoils from Murray in the slams. Roger and Djokovic was not even playing the Asian swing, while Nadal was not exactly on fire. Today Murray beat Ferrer 7-5, 6-4 in the final of Shanghai to claim his eighth Masters Series title. Shanghai had one of the weakest Masters Series fields I’ve seen in a while, especially when Nadal lost early on. Murray did beat Nadal in Tokyo, but Mayer beat Nadal even easier in Shanghai. So Nadal was clearly struggling. But at least I have to remain consistent in my posts. Just forget about the title of this post for a second. If it is possible that Nadal is starting to decline, then I suppose it must be possible that Murray’s level is improving. Murray is currently 24 and still has won no slams. He turns 25 next year and it is time for him to start making his move if he ever wants to win a slam.
But remember I did not just write Nadal off. Lets say for instance he has a similar year next year as he had this year, then he will destroy Murray in the slams again. For Murray to beat him in slams, Nadal’s level will have to drop. And of course that is not impossible. Murray could beat Nadal in slams next year if his level is in fact improving and Nadal’s level is declining. Personally I would be just fine with that. Murray has after all beaten Nadal in slams before. But even if that does happen, Murray still has Djokovic standing squarely in his way to win his first slam. And then of course Roger, who he has never beaten in a slam. But the main thing I want to get to in this post is that we have seen how Murray chokes in the past. We have seen him being hyped up to win a slam and then folding under the pressure.
He was the favorite of the bookies before the 2009 Australian Open, and he folded against Verdasco in the fourth round. At the US Open of 2009 he was once again one of the big favorites, but was unceremoniously dumped out of in the fourth round by Cilic. Those people who did not learn their lesson called him the favorite for the US Open again in 2010, and this time he was disposed of by Wawrinka in the third round. Murray did at least make three slam finals so far, but on each occasion he lost in straight sets. His best performance was in the 2010 Oz Open final where he lost in a close three setter to Roger. In the other two finals he got slaughtered. Memo to the ‘experts’ who called Murray the favorite for a slam in the past: No player who has never won a slam before is the favorite to win any slam.
A player can show all the signs of being able to win a slam, but when the moment of truth arrives they could choke. Like Murray has. Murray completely folded in the US Open 2008 and Oz Open 2011 finals. He never showed up. At the 2010 Oz Open final Roger was in JesusFed mode, but Murray could have at least won the third set where he had chances. It’s not a good sign for Murray that he actually did worse in this year’s Oz Open final than he did in his previous slam final. There doesn’t seem to be any progress in the big moments for him. Now we have once again a situation where he seems to be doing good things in tennis. He just won three tournaments in a row and is on a nice winning streak. Even though Roger and Djokovic was absent, and Nadal was not exactly at his best, it still took some doing.
However, I simply cannot be convinced that this all of s sudden means that Murray will win a slam next year, just as I cannot be convinced that Nadal will not win any slams next year. Both scenario’s are possible, but both are pretty unlikely as well. You just don’t write off a proven champion like Nadal, just as you just don’t hype up a proven failure at slam level like Murray. It is bad enough to call a player a favorite to win a slam that has never won a slam before, but to call someone a favorite who has choked time and time again at slam level is criminal. That is not to say that Murray can not win a slam. In fact, with some luck I believe he can win a slam. But for me it is not in his hands. He will need something to go his way. He would need Nadal to keep declining and Roger would need to lose early on.
And Djokovic would have to be upset as well, which is the most unlikely. And then there are others like Del Potro and Tsonga who can easily upset Murray. There are also youngsters like Tomic and Dolgopolov who is coming up fast. It certainly doesn’t get any easier for Murray as the years go by. The people who are once again hyping Murray up to win a slam next year are forgetting that the pressure is increasing on Murray to win a slam, not decreasing. Next year is the year that many now feel Murray will break through. This puts even more pressure on him. He knows if he does not break through then there will be even more pressure. Each year he fails to deliver the pressure of becoming just another failed potential slam winner becomes more and more. And the pressure on Murray is even more severe since he is British and everyone is expecting him to end the British slam drought.
Taking everything into account, the possibility that Murray will win a slam next year is smaller than him not winning one. Murray is now on a good run and it will be interesting to see what he will do for the rest of the year when Roger and Djokovic is back. Murray next plays Valencia, where he could get another win, but then it is Paris and the Masters Cup where he will come up against the big guns. He may even get another friendly draw in Paris, but at the Masters Cup there is no avoiding the big players. That will be his first big test before the Oz Open next year. If Murray can win the Masters Cup it could give him the confidence to win a slam. It is next in line in level of prestige after the slams. At least winning the Masters Cup would put him on par with guys like Nabandian and Davydenko.
It’s going to be hard though. If Roger can recapture his form of last year he will be unstoppable in his quest for a record sixth Masters Cup title. Djokovic will also be fresh after his rest and will desperately want to win the Masters Cup so that he can improve on Roger’s 2006 season. Djokovic has won 3 slams, won a record 5 Masters Series titles, and lost only 4 times so far this year. If he wins the Masters Cup he will be very close to beating Roger’s amazing 2006 season. It depends how Djokovic does in Basel and Paris as well, but you feel he does need to win the Masters Cup to at least be on par with Roger. I think Roger is very hungry and will do whatever he can to stop Djokovic in Basel and London. Probably you will see Murray struggling once again to win the Masters Cup, which will prove he can’t talk along with the big boys.
Let me just talk about the ‘big three’ for a second as well. As far as I’m concerned there never was a ‘big four’. There was the ‘big three’, Murray, and then the rest. The simple fact that Murray is now number three in the rankings doesn’t mean a single thing. How could it when he was already number two in the rankings? Murray needs to win at least one slam to be mentioned in the same breath as the big three. Rankings actually mean very little. Murray has won five titles this year now, while Roger has won only one. However Roger has still remained in contact with the top two in the slams, while Murray got repeatedly owned by them in the slams. If Roger wins Basel and the Masters Cup his year is still better than Murray’s. It’s not so much about how much you win, but what you win and who you beat.
Roger was the only one who legitimately beat Djokovic so far this year, and it was in a slam. He should have beaten him at the US Open again was it not for a freakish return from Djokovic when match point down. And then he lost closely to Nadal in the French Open final. Of the top two, Murray only beat Nadal once and it was in the final of an ATP 500 event when Nadal would not have cared as much as in a slam. In the slams Murray got destroyed once by Djokovic, and three times by Nadal, with the possible exception of Wimbledon. And now Murray is having some success on the Asian swing with the top three absent. I just don’t buy the fact that he is now all of a sudden better than Roger. Roger is older and he cares less about keeping his ranking now. If he really cared he would have played the Asian swing.
For Roger it is now about winning another slam, the Maters Cup, or the Olympic gold in singles, and he is still a legitimate threat to do so. He has already been number one and the rankings means little to him. Murray on the other hand still has to prove himself. He can be number one as far as I care, but if he fails to win a slam he will be just another Marcelo Rios. In other words a choker. After Murray’s recent success he is already being hyped up to win the Oz Open next year. People are not even waiting to see what happens towards the end of the year when Roger and Djokovic is back. Not that I’m complaining. I love the Murray hype. I actually hope he fares well towards the end of the year so that the hype for next year increases even more. The more hype, the more pressure on Murray, and the less chances of him winning a slam.
Even if Murray fails to win the Master Cup, which I think will be the case, I think come next year he will once again be hyped up before the Oz Open. The believers are now starting to believe that Murray is shifting into another gear, and that next year will be his year. The hype around Murray may reach epic proportions come Australia next year, in which case the pressure on his will reach epic proportions, in which case we could be in for yet another epic choke. It may sound sadistic, but I really enjoy it when that happens. And besides, it is one less player for Roger to worry about. There are many reasons to look forward to next year. You have the mouth watering prospect that Djokovic could continue his owning of Nadal, you have the possibility that Murray could keep choking hilariously in slams, and you have the possibility that Roger could bag another slam or an Olympic gold.
If you ask me those are three things that could make 2012 an intensely interesting year in tennis. And that is only the beginning…