x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Only way is up for Murray

Andy Murray thinks otherwise but at this early stage of his career he can already claim to be the best men's tennis player to come out of the UK since the late Fred Perry.

Andy Murray of Britain has secured the right to lock swords with the world's best three players.
Andy Murray of Britain has secured the right to lock swords with the world's best three players.

Andy Murray thinks otherwise but at this early stage of his career he can already claim to be the best men's tennis player to come out of the United Kingdom since the late Fred Perry won three Wimbledon titles before the Second World War. The Scotsman, 21, accused during his formative years of being arrogant and brash, went too far the other way in the modesty stakes after eclipsing the rest of the world's leading players to win his second successive Masters Series event in Madrid on Sunday.

Murray believes he still has some way to go before he can stand alongside Tim Henman, his predecessor as the British No 1 and the Canadian-born Greg Rusedski, who also held the top ranking in his adopted country. "Tim was much, much better than me," Murray said after following up his semi-final victory over the former world No 1 Roger Federer, which avenged the result in the final of the US Open, with a convincing conquest of Frenchman Gilles Simon in the final.

Those seven words offered commendable respect to an Englishman who bravely carried the hopes of a nation through a decade of Wimbledons, threatening on several occasions to win the most coveted of all titles but falling agonisingly short each time. But those seven respectful words are simply not true. Henman, who reached a career high-world ranking of four in his 10th year as a professional, won 11 ATP tour titles between 1997 and 2003 but only one of those (Paris) was in the top-tier Masters Series events. And he never reached a grand slam final in his 12 years among the game's elite.

Murray, has already matched Henman's best ranking of four in what is only his third serious year on tour and in that time has amassed seven titles, two of them in the Masters Series (Cincinnati in August and now Madrid). On top of that he has enjoyed his first taste of a Grand Slam final which he earned by beating new world No 1 Rafael Nadal in the semi- finals of the US Open. Barring injuries, and Murray has been susceptible to those during his swift rise into one of his sport's most powerful figures, the flying Scotsman is surely going to outstrip the genial Englishman in the British hall of fame and is set to do it sooner rather than later.

Nobody would have thought that, however, after witnessing the brutal way Murray was destroyed by Nadal in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon only four months ago. On that sobering afternoon, the All England Club's new standard bearer was made to look like a selling plater in the company of a thoroughbred as Nadal gave him the mother of all beatings. The stark message then was that Murray's creditable rise into the top 10 was as far as he was going and that further progress would have to be put on hold for a year or two. How wrong he has proved those doubters, myself included, as he has earned the right to be considered as a genuine threat to Nadal, Federer and world No 3 Novak Djokovic, all of whom he has defeated since that Wimbledon embarrassment.

Murray has secured the right to lock swords with those three men rated higher than him in the end-of-season play-offs in Shanghai which brings together the eight leading players in the annual ATP Race. The battle to join him is really hotting up with Simon, a 6-4, 7-6 loser to Murray in Sunday's Madrid final, moving up to ninth only a few points behind the injured Argentine Juan-Martin Del Potro, who a month ago looked a certainty to be allocated one of the privileged places. Now it has boiled down to any four from eight for the remaining positions with Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and American Andy Roddick the two most likely. Behind them are David Ferrer, the Spaniard who appears to be in decline, Del Potro, Simon, James Blake (US), Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) and Fernando Gonzalez (Chile).

Whoever gets on the trip to China will now fear man of the moment Murray as much as the perennial favourites to take such a significant prize - a tremendous endorsement of the young Scot's outstanding work in the latter half of 2008. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae