x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Murray’s tennis legacy is on the line at Australian Open

Graham Caygill asks if the Scot’s famous title at Wimbledon will define his career and looks at a few goals still ahead of him.

Andy Murray returns the ball during practice on Sunday at the Australian Open in Melbourne. The Scot wants to build on his memorable Wimbledon title from last year. Franck Robichon / EPA
Andy Murray returns the ball during practice on Sunday at the Australian Open in Melbourne. The Scot wants to build on his memorable Wimbledon title from last year. Franck Robichon / EPA

“I want to achieve more, but if it was tomorrow and I could not play any more, at least I don’t have to worry.”

Speaking last month, Andy Murray acknowledged that if for any unforeseen reason he retired from tennis now and never won another match, he could do so a happy man.

The one he wanted most came his way last July in emotional scenes as he defeated Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon to end Britain’s 77-year wait for a male winner of their home grand slam.

Tears were shed after losing the 2012 final to Roger Federer in a demonstration of how badly he desired the title.

So the proverbial mountain has been climbed. But what next for the man from Dunblane, Scotland?

That is the question that Murray faces as he begins his campaign at the Australian Open this week, with his opening-round match against Go Soeda.

Murray, ranked No 4 in the world, starts 2014 as a two-time major winner, his first success coming at the US Open in 2012.

Triumphing at Flushing Meadows had done little to dampen his appetite, essentially because he had yet to conquer Wimbledon, the one he and his countrymen had put most pressure and expectation on to win.

But that one is in the trophy cabinet, too, and it is now about seeing what kind of a legacy the 26 year old will build in the remaining years of his career.

There are still things to achieve.

He has yet to be world No 1, a feat unlikely to happen this year at least with Rafael Nadal set to increase his points lead, and then there is the career grand slam, which will be a tall order as he has never been a serious contender on clay, limiting his hopes of ever prevailing at the French Open.

So, in the short term at least, it is about winning tournaments.

Does he want to be content with a couple of grand slams to his name, or does he want to follow in the footsteps of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer and accumulate a multitude of majors?

There is no disgrace in winning just a couple of majors. Many fine players have never progressed beyond having two slams to their name.

Patrick Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Sergi Bruguera are the players in the past 20 years who won two slams, but did not progress to three, with a third title an unrealistic prospect for the durable Hewitt, the only one of the quintet still playing.

All the above are consigned in history as good players, but not greats – not of the ilk of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

While winning a grand slam is a mighty achievement, doing it again and again is another level higher and that is what Murray should be aspiring to. Of course that is easier said than done, especially when he has players of the calibre of Nadal and Djokovic to overcome.

Federer and Sampras, the two most successful players in Open history with respectively 17 and 14 majors, racked up their titles during eras when they were dominant and had a competitive edge.

This is something Murray has never had as he is yet to be No 1 and, even though he has reached seven grand slam finals, he has never been the favourite in any of them. He was against a higher-seeded player on each occasion.

So where does Murray fit into things post-Wimbledon breakthrough?

It is unfair to base a judgment on his rather limp US Open title defence last September, where he was well beaten in the quarter-finals by Stanislas Wawrinka.

It was plain to see Murray was not at his best in New York and it became clear afterwards why. He was hurting.

His lower back problems were serious enough to require an operation, which curtailed the closing months of the 2013 season.

He only returned to action last month, firstly at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi and then in Doha, where, in the second round at the Qatar Open, he lost to Florian Mayer, the world No 40, after being a set and a break up at one stage.

So to say he has not had much match practice going into Melbourne is hardly an understatement.

Indeed Murray’s pre-tournament comments on his chances were not exactly a war cry.

“Obviously I need to be pretty patient with myself and not expect too much,” he said.

“But you never know. I’ve done a lot of training the last few months. It’s just I haven’t played many matches.”

Even if he is not firing on all cylinders Murray will still be a tough opponent to vanquish at a tournament in which he has three times been a beaten finalist.

His hardcourt play has always been a strong suit and, after two nervy final displays in 2010 and 2011 against Federer and Djokovic, he was superb in last year’s final against Djokovic, pushing the then world No 1 to the limit before Djokovic claimed his fourth Melbourne crown.

If Australia comes too soon for Murray to find his form, it will be his title defence at Wimbledon in the summer that offers his best chance of adding to his tally of slams.

He won it last year, really should have won it in 2012, and was a semi-finalist the previous three years.

But, more importantly, it is the tournament where his opposition is at its weakest. Djokovic is good, but not brilliant, on grass, while Nadal went out in the second round and then the first in the past two years as his body struggled to recover from the exertions of the French Open.

At present, Nadal and Djokovic are the two top dogs of men’s tennis and any opportunity to capitalise on events where they are not at their best must be taken, and Wimbledon gives Murray that opportunity. That is a scenario that suggests he can dominate on centre court at SW19 for the next few years.

The US Open will be a harder task with Djokovic, Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro all strong there but he has proven he knows how to win at Flushing Meadows.

The opportunities for further grand slams are there for Murray.

It is now up to him to decide whether he will be remembered simply as being good or if he will go on to become a great of the sport.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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