It is almost time for the grand finale, but not before I have my final say(pun intended ). I wrote down some thoughts about the final in my previous post, but I left much unsaid. Last year we had an an epic final of course, but for Fedfanatics the outcome was heartbreak. For me personally it was the lowest point as Roger’s fan. The title was Roger’s for the taking, after Rafa has played the second semi-final and had that marathon match against Verdasco. It was his chance for payback after losing the 2008 Wimbledon final to Rafa, yet somehow he managed to let it get away from him. Now it’s that time of year again, and even though it won’t be Rafa across the net from him, he will have the chance to make up for that loss when he faces another one of his big rivals.
Having said that, I don’t believe Murray is in the same league as Rafa. That may change some day, but so far he has not even come close to the mental prowess of the Spaniard. So far Murray has cracked each and every time under the pressure of expectation in grand slams. But then again, maybe that is just part of his development? We can’t know for sure until a few more years have passed. But lets be honest, Murray did disappoint in the majors last year. There has just been so much expectation thrust upon him, that you almost can’t blame him. Like Roger said, the British haven’t had a major champion in something like 150 000 years? Lol. I can sort of understand how Murray must be feeling, because the Brits want a major and they want it now.
It’s not really fair to be honest. But was it fair when Rafa had to play the second semi-final last year and play a marathon against Verdasco? No. Yet he still won the final. The slams are the playground of the big boys. There are no room for excuses or timidity. And so far Murray has been timid in the slams. He underperformed in all the slams, or at least the Australian Open and US Open. I will give him the benefit of the doubt at the French Open and Wimbledon, because he is not really a clay court specialist, and at Wimbledon there is extra pressure on him. Also, he did have his best results ever at both those tournaments. So I suppose that could be seen as progress. But he really disappointed at the Australian Open, where he was the pre tournament favorite.
Roger’s relaxed attitude is the most worrying prospect for Murray going into the final.
At the US Open he was yet again a big favorite, but he was completely dominated by Cilic in the fourth round. This year I think Murray did a smart thing. He didn’t play in Doha like he usually did. Instead he played in the Hopman Cup for Britain, which is a pretty low key event. He even lost to Tommy Robredo in the final, which I think was a blessing in disguise for him. This means Murray had no pressure on him this time around coming into the Australian Open. He was still one of the favorites, but there was nowhere near the amount of hype surrounding him as was the case last year. For Murray this was important, because so far he has not responded well under the pressure of expectation. This meant he came into the Australian Open under the radar and he could play his best game.
But, here is problem for Murray. Even though he is now in the final and have played some fantastic tennis, the pressure has increased on him with every match. The pressure does not go away, it increases. In the semi-finals against Cilic, it was clearly evident that the pressure was once again taking its toll on the Scot. Until he broke Cilic in the second set with a stroke of genius, he looked like that same lost boy we have seen so many times in the slams last year. You can clearly notice it, it’s there for everyone to notice who has eyes to see. It is written all over his face and body language. I’m sure Murray will feel he has exorcised some of those demons against Cilic. But I think Murray was slightly fortunate that Cilic had played three five set matches already at that point.
He was just too tired to cause another momentum shift in the match. I don’t think there was much between the two players. Had Cilic been rested, it could well have turned out to be an epic five set match. The real test for Murray comes when he faces the GOAT in the final. Personally I feel Murray is under extreme pressure going into this final, more extreme than ever. He faces the most successful player in grand slam history. That fact alone is enough to fill Murray with fear. Add to that the fact that Roger blasted Tsonga right off the court in the semi-finals, and all this talk from Roger in the media, I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray is that lost boy once more. Some matches are won before the players step on court, and this might well be the case here.
I know I wouldn’t want to be going into my second slam final, having lost the first against the same player, knowing that the GOAT wants to tear me to shreds. That’s a pretty scary prospect, because like the match against Tsonga, Roger has the ability to make his opponents look really bad. A thought that may be going through Murray’s mind is: “What if he does to me what he did to Tsonga? How ridiculous would I look if he does that to me for the second time in a slam final, especially after so much is expected of this final?” Roger has made it clear that he feels no pressure going into this final, and for me that is maybe the scariest part from a Murray point of view. I mean how must it feel, knowing that you have everything to prove, against the GOAT who has already proven it all?
Not to mention that the GOAT is in ominous form. But of course being the GOAT brings its own pressures. You tread a very thin line. As the GOAT you are expected to win just about everything. And I know Roger desperately wants this title. How many chances will he still get to win it? And should he lose an important match like this to a young upcoming player like Murray, it will give others players the hope that they can do the same. People will also say that Roger can’t win hard court slams anymore. He lost to Rafa and Del Potro in the two hard court slam finals last year, so losing to Murray here wouldn’t exactly be the best idea. Also, if Roger wants to extend his career for as long as he says, then he needs to start this new decade with a win at the first slam.
He needs to remind all the players that he is still the dominant force going into the new decade, or else it could become just harder and harder for him to win slams from now on. Winning the first slams of the year really sets you up for the rest of the year. It takes a big load off your shoulders, knowing that you already have one in the bag with three to go. So for Roger there is really everything to play for. But, here is the big BUT. If Roger retired today he would have achieved most of his main goals. The same can not be said for Murray. He has everything left to prove. So as far as pressure goes, Murray has by far the most going into this match. And on top of that Roger was smart by making Murray understand this fact very clearly by his talk in the media.
This Roger is an intelligent guy, make no mistake about it. He knows how to create pressure, not just on court but off it as well. People who criticize this first of all have no clue about professional sport whatsoever, and second they are utterly boring. Don’t think for one second Roger has not noticed that Murray has felt the pressure of expectation in the past, and he is now using that against him. It’s beautiful. I think it’s worth it to not only appreciate Roger’s beautiful tennis on court, but also his mental intelligence off it. Or else you will miss half of what Roger is about. Taking everything in this post into account, I feel that Roger is the firm favorite to win this match. I know there is a lot of people who think it’s just about impossible to call this match, but I don’t feel like that at all.
I guess these people have missed something. Or maybe they don’t understand the mental dynamics of tennis, which is by far the most important aspect of the sport. You can have all the talent and physical abilities in the world, but if you are mentally weak you will get nowhere. This is the part of Murray’s game that will be severely tested once again when action gets under way on Rod Laver Arena. We know Murray has all the talent and physical abilities, but there has always been a question mark over his mental strength. For Murray to win this match I think will take an enormous mental effort, and should he do so, it will be a huge breakthrough in his career. Personally I don’t think he is ready. May the best man win.