Murray Hype Gains Momentum for Another Epic Choke at the Australian Open

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…

Roger Federer


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17 Comments

  1. Very funny post,especially”You have the possibility that Murray could keep choking hilariously in slams” :-) But it can`t be easy for Murray.Since when has a player had to endure so much pressure from the public,and the british media.It seems he has the wrong focus,perform well in the master tournaments,and then choke(play too passivily) when it really matters in the slams.

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  2. Murray’s mind is all mush. He’s always picking up the stray trash after the big 3 have done their thing. Even with Nadal and Federer declining, I doubt the Brit will win a slam anytime soon. Perhaps in 2013 a slam will fall his way. But so what? He’d just be another Roddick, and nothing more. The only way Murray can win multiple slams is if he miraculously transforms himself into a fearless, slashing, attacking player. And how many believe he can do that?

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    Manu Reply:

    Nadal declining? OH GOSH, don’t tell me you’re believing his stupid game.

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  3. Ru-an, hilarious and very enjoyable post! I was laughing to myself all the way reading down your post. Man, you are honest, “sadistic” – LOL, never change, Ru-an! You are just fine, the way you write! LOL again! I used to just hate Murray (mostly because he had Fed’s number in the early days and Fed can’t hide how much Murray gets under his skin) but I have become quite fond of Murray now and do find his self loathe quite touching and how open he is in his comments about anything and anyone although sometimes his comments are without much thought. And his game is interesting, even irritating sometimes. You sort of love and hate him at the same time, know what I mean? Just love his latest comment (how proud he must be of his “achievement”!) about how many people can claim they have overtaken Fed! He uses Fed as THE standard; even sited Fed’s coachless situation and imitated Fed by not having a coach for some time. He has mixed feelings for Fed. On one hand, he has this awe/admiration for Fed, yet also thinks he can beat Fed and not respect him sometimes. Anyway, you are so funny, can’t stop smiling/laughing.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Glad you enjoyed it veronica. And no, I don’t like Murray. Haha.

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  4. Let´s see if Roger´s as N4 will continue to draw Djoko in every Slam, then that would convince me that draws in
    GS. are really fixed. I would like to think that he will put Muray back where he belongs in no time at all!
    let´s hope and wait!
    Roger has a much better record against Djoko than against Nadal so why you want him on Nadal´s side of the draw?
    Roger´s recently interview:”I´m certain that if I continue to work hard now that I´m well physically it will pay in the end.I haven´t had this feeling in a long time.It´s a good feeling to have again”.This was in Dubai. Can we ask for anymore than that?

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Do you want a Fedal final?

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    ines Reply:

    I´m hoping this will put Roger on the other opposite side of the draw from Novak and they´ll go on to create historic finals,but I´m afraid of a Fedal semifinal even though you never know how the draws will pan out, in my opinion Nadal is not going to be in Djoko´s half,they know he´s going to be beaten and “Nadalito” has always his cupcake draws.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    A Fedal SF is better than a Fedal final. Nadal obviously can’t draw Djokovic cos they are #1 and #2 in the world.

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    booya719 Reply:

    Well on a sidenote – if Murray keeps winning he has a realistic shot of overtaking Nadal for the number 2 ranking. If Nadal doesn’t defend his points at the Masters Cup he could be in for losing another 1000 points or whatever he gained there. The gap would close quite a bit if Murray does well for the rest of the season. This would be great for Federer to see Murray at 2 and Nadal at 3 as it gives the possibility of Novak vs Nadal SF’s back.

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  5. Like your post very much, Ruan.
    It’s a great mix of jesting remarks on the Murray hype and some well weigthed predictions for us readers about what we may expect in the coming tournaments. I particularly liked a lot the way you unfold the reasons why Murray can’t be considered yet as a serious threat to the big tree, and the way you seize the irrationality behind this Murrayhype.
    Back in 2009, Murray beated Roger Federer on several occasions, on hard court, and was prematurely concluding from this that he is a better tennis player than Roger, that he soon would overtake him on top of the rankings.
    Pride goes before the fall though, and Murray had to learn this the hard way.
    Roger made it very clear to him, in AO 2010, that he was still Roger Federer, and that you couldn’t mess with him. Murray got beaten in straight sets, of which the third was indeed breathtaking. This loss made Any Murray a more humble man, and showed us a different Murray, a more likable Murray.
    But the expectations of his entourage and fans apparently didn’t decrease at all.
    As you point out very well, it is still premature though to make him one of the favorites to win a grand slam or the master cup.

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  6. Before we write Andy Murray out of grand slam contention as a choker I might point out that the great Ivan Lendl, who went on to win 8 grand slam titles before he eventually retired in 1994, had earned a reputation as a choker early in his career, and did not win his first slam until he was 24 – the same age as Murray is now. Some champions mature later than others.

    However, it might also be noted that Lendl was already world No.1 when he gained his first slam, the French Open, in 1984. Murray has a way to go before he is in contention for that ranking. Furthermore, Lendl had an aggressive playing style with a powerful serve and groundstrokes, that when it all came together was going to beat most of his opponents. Murray still relies much more on defensive and counterpunching skills. As we are now seeing with Nadal, that is not always a winning formula against strong-hitting opponents who are having a good day.

    I agree that Murray is still an outsider for a slam title, but not because he is a choker – he could get over that – but because there are currently 2 if not 3 players who are consistently better than him still. Also, his predominantly defensive style renders him vulnerable against aggressive players who are on song, and he seems unable or unwilling to change his game. I will also stick my neck out and say that I don’t think his forehand is a good enough weapon to yet win him a slam – not compared with Djokovic, Federer or Nadal in that department. These days, a great backhand is not enough.

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  7. Excellent post, Ru-an.

    It might be too harsh (and premature) to say that Murray’s a born also-ran, but that wouldn’t be too far from the truth, at least if we’re comparing him to the players at the very top.

    In the moment of truth, he lacks the firepower and the will to seize the initiative. He prefers a waiting game, which is fine against 99.99% of the tour, but that 0.01% against whom it doesn’t work are the players he faces in major finals.

    Even if he went “gluten-free” like Djokovic (and who’s to say he isn’t already doing so, given his remarkable defensive skills and stamina), I don’t think that would make up for what he lacks. It’s not just an issue of technique (though Neil has discussed his comparatively weak forehand), but one of character and temperament.

    He just doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct that Federer, Djokovic (the “gluten-free” version), and Del Potro were born with. Those players go for their shots in the most important moments. They seize their destiny in their own hands. Murray doesn’t do that.

    Nadal is an exception to the rule that primarily defensive players do not win major titles, but as has been pointed out, he’s essentially been turned into a mindless, robotic winning machine through the psychological manipulation of his uncle.

    Judy Murray, however much she might want her son to win, appears to have sufficient maternal feeling to not stoop to that level.

    However, Murray’s losses in major finals came to Federer–the greatest Grand Slam champion ever–and to Djokovic, who’s put together one of the best seasons any player has ever had in the Open Era. This year has been most consistent year he’s had in the Grand Slams: one final, three semis. And it was Nadal who stopped him in three of the majors.

    But it would take a lot of luck for him to win– Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic would all have to falter in a Grand Slam (which is highly unlikely), because I don’t see him beating them in the semis or final. That’s to say nothing of the proven champs like Del Potro, or the coming players, like Cilic, who might challenge for Grand Slam titles in the next couple of years.

    Ultimately it’s never been completely clear to me if he wants to win for himself, or to please his mother and fulfill the British public’s long-held hopes of a Grand Slam champion. If the latter, I doubt he’ll ever do it.

    In the end, to win a Grand Slam, you have to want to be the one standing on that podium more badly than anything else. And I don’t see that in Murray.

    In his youth Federer was often accused of being a soulless, facile virtuoso; that his victories were due purely to an overwhelming technical superiority, that he was all flash and no heart, and behind all his tricks there lay nothing. Now that his skills have faded slightly we have discovered that there was a remarkable human being behind the dazzling magic, and those human qualities were absolutely key to his amazing achievements.

    Murray’s tricks are impressive: his touch, his variety, his court sense are all among the best in the game. But what lies behind them? Is it the heart of a champion? That only Andy Murray can answer for himself.

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  8. Very well thought out and logical comments Steve, as usual. I agree with you your objectivity and observations. However I believe next year maybe Murray’s breakthrough year although Murray still has much convincing to do before anyone believes he can win a slam. Djoker has set a snowball effect of “belief in oneself” in the locker room. A lot of players and Murray in particular, is much inspired and encouraged by what Djoker has achieved. I think Murray realises now more and more what is needed to win a slam. I think he really believes he can and will be able to take the next step. It’s also inevitable, the cycles. Fed seems motivated to really step it up next year but if not or after next year, I can only see Djoker and Murray as the next rivalry with some others in the mix. Nadal, I agree is not declining, just that Djoker’s game has exposed his one-dimensional game glaringly, as it has, for the most part, been “hidden” behind his extraordinary physical prowess. He would also try to come back with a vengeance next year and with his “death and ressurection” tennis cycle, you can never write him off. Still, I believe Nadal is winding down. I don’t think he would be in the conversation too long. The invincibility/intimidating factor of both Fed and Nadal is very significant and if that is lost, half the battle is won by those who fear it no more. It will be Djoker and Murray sooner than we think. That’s my instinctive feeling. Objectively speaking though, I agree with you Steve.

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