Murray running out of time
When Andy Murray returned home after losing the French Open final to Novak Djokovic 12 months ago, not even his most optimistic supporters could have envisioned the ascent that followed.
Trailing Djokovic by 8,035 points in the rankings, Murray made a sensational surge up the charts in the second half of the season, winning seven of nine ATP Tour events to finish 2016 at the top of the rankings.
Murray’s magical run started at Queen’s Club in June and he followed it up with tour titles at Wimbledon, Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and the ATP Finals in London. He also won the gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
Fast forward 12 months and those triumphs now seem a distant memory as Murray returns to Queen’s Club in London with his No 1 ranking under threat and the weight of 7,960 points to defend in the remaining weeks of the season.
In his 32nd week at the summit, Murray still has a healthy 2,105-point lead over Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard, however, has a mere 370 points to defend from now until the end of the season.
Given the enormity of his task, Murray seemed resigned to his fate when asked if he will end 2016 as he began it at the top of the rankings.
“It’s most likely that I’ll lose the No 1 spot. No one has kept it forever, it will inevitably happen at some stage,” he said in quotes carried by Metro.co.uk.
It seems like a missed opportunity for Murray to cement his place as the most dominant figure in the men’s game.
Despite Nadal’s resurgence, culminating in a 10th French Open title last month, fellow members of the “Big Four” – Djokovic and Roger Federer – continue to struggle for form or, in the latter’s case, are carefully managing the number of tournaments they play.
Murray, then, should be consolidating his position at the top for the rankings for the rest of this year and beyond. Instead, he has managed only one title – the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in March – and has reached only one other final, in Doha.
Already this year Murray lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open, to world No 50 Mischa Zverev, crashed at the opening hurdle in Indian Wells, losing to No 129 Vasek Pospisil.
Save for Barcelona, where the 30-year-old Scot reached the semi-finals, he has struggled on the clay courts of Europe until Roland Garros, where, aided by a favourable draw, he reached the last four. It is a run of form Murray acknowledged had left him clinging to his world No 1 status.
“If you want to stay as world No 1 you can’t have three or four months of the year where you’re not winning matches or not performing well in the big events, which is what happened from me from February through to the French Open,” he said.
Can Murray turn it around like last season?
The task is definitely a lot tougher with Nadal and Federer in form. Murray said is hoping to use their success as inspiration.
“They’ve both played great, great tennis,” he said. “When you watch them play, that’s motivating to try to get better, and I know if I don’t improve myself I’m not going to be able to win the big competitions or be able to beat them.”
Murray, however, does not see himself winning grand slam titles like Federer is in his mid-30s. In January the Swiss won the 18th major of his career by beating Nadal in the final of the Australian Open age 35.
“I know some of the players have been doing really well until their mid-30s recently, but that might not be the case with me,” Murray, who turned 30 last month, told the BBC.
“Maybe the next couple of years are the last few where I have a chance to compete for the majors and the biggest tournaments. I don’t know how long I’m going to be playing for any more. I want to make the most of every tournament I compete in.”
To do that, Murray knows he needs “to do everything right in the next few weeks” as his game “isn’t where I’d like it to be”.
Can playing on grass, in front of adoring home fans, be a panacea for his woes and help him extend his reign at No 1?
The coming weeks will provide us with answers.
Updated: June 19, 2017 04:00 AM