x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Andy Murray's form shows he is back in ascendency

The world No 4's superb play in beating Rafael Nadal makes his early season struggles that bit more puzzling.

Andy Murray celebrates beating Rafael Nadal in Japan on Sunday for his second title in two weeks.
Andy Murray celebrates beating Rafael Nadal in Japan on Sunday for his second title in two weeks.

The mystery that is Andy Murray has tennis aficionados shaking their heads again. The same player who failed to win a set over four matches, three continents, and 74 days early this year has caught fire.

His spree of three championships from four tournaments and 21 victories from 22 matches, punctuated by a 6-0 third set blitz of Rafael Nadal in the Tokyo final on Sunday, wakens visions of the Murray who could end Britain's 75-year grand-slam drought and even push for the world No 1 ranking.

The ascendant Scot has set his sights on Roger Federerand the No 3 ranking.

"I've played well in the last few months. I need to carry on that form in Shanghai," he said after winning in Tokyo.

"I need to keep up the wins and hopefully I'll get to the No 3 ranking. It's not the ultimate goal, but it's the target I set for the last few tournaments this year."

Explaining how an elite player in his prime could lose consecutively to Marcos Baghdatis, Donald Young and Alex Bogomolev Jr and a few months later destroy an in-form Nadal is generally an exercise in futility, particularly when that man is Murray.

It remains unclear how he turned around his season, although a change of coach (Alex Correjta to Barry Cowan) in the spring, along with healing from little injuries and his ballyhooed dietary adjustments (bangers and mash out; fish and pasta in) may make for a multi-pronged explanation.

With Murray, recovery from brain sprain also could be a factor. For nearly two years now, when he is good, he is very, very good, and when he is bad he is awful.

He flipped the switch in the spring, when he won at Queen's Club in England. He made a semi-final run at Wimbledon before Nadal dismissed him, but he won at Cincinnati from a retiring Novak Djokovic, at Thailand last week and now at Tokyo.

He suddenly has a very nice season going on, four championships (only Djokovic has won more in 2011), a slam final appearance (Australia) and semi-final berths at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. His match record is 50-11, and from mid-April onwards he has lost only five times, once to Djokovic, three times to Nadal.

The Spaniard was impressed with the Murray who shrugged off a first set loss and stormed to victory on Sunday with 6-2, 6-0 sets.

Nadal managed only four points in the final six games as Murray battered him with backhands and was brilliant on his return of serve. "He played unbelievable," Nadal said. "He played very aggressive and made no mistakes."

Murray, clearly, is back. Until further notice.