x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

World No 1 tennis ranking is now well within Andy Murray's grasp

Two grand slam victories in past year have propelled British No 1 above the rest, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

When it comes to grand slams over the past year, Andy Murray has been the most consistent player in men’s tennis, and his Wimbledon victory on Sunday has put the world No 1 ranking within his grasp. Julian Finney / Getty Images
When it comes to grand slams over the past year, Andy Murray has been the most consistent player in men’s tennis, and his Wimbledon victory on Sunday has put the world No 1 ranking within his grasp. Julian Finney / Getty Images

London on Sunday was sweltering hot. Mercury, under the sun, was hovering around the 49° Celsius mark. But the thousands of fans on the grassy banks of the Aorangi Terrace must have barely noticed that.

Their hearts and minds were, instead, focused on the action being relayed on the giant screen from Centre Court. They waited in anticipation of a historic moment. Generations had waited for it in vain. Their chants of "Let's go, Andy, Let's go!" could be heard from a few miles away.

For the uninitiated, the Aorangi Terrace at the All England Club is popularly called "Murray Mound" now. A few years back, it was known as "Henman Hill".

Inside, on the Centre Court, Novak Djokovic's eyes must have been searching for a Serbian flag or a supporter. Besides his entourage, there were probably very few, if none. The stadium was cramped with 16,000 people, all there to support Murray. Some of them had paid as much as £71,000 (Dh388,785) for a pair of tickets, according to some reports.

"The atmosphere was incredible for him," Djokovic said later. "For me, not so much."

That, however, was not always the case. In the men's final last year, between Murray and Roger Federer, you could hear screams of "We love you Roger".

In the years before, Murray would usually hear cries of "Come on, Tim" as he prepared to serve – referring to Tim Henman, the former British No 1. And they did not take Henman's name by mistake, rather it was deliberate: a juvenile gag, in poor taste.

But all that changed last year, after Murray was reduced to tears following his loss in last year's final to Federer. The English fans suddenly warmed up to the awkward Scot.

"That's when people started to realise how much he cared," America's Jim Courier, the former world No 1, said recently. "It was a beautiful moment."

Henman, however, found it "slightly sad it took him [Murray] to cry for people to suddenly take a step back and go: 'Wow, you know he has got a heart, he is a sensitive soul'."

Murray is a sensitive soul indeed. And it showed in the moments after he became the first British male to win Wimbledon in 77 years – the last was Fred Perry in 1936.

He is Scotland's first Wimbledon singles champion since Harold Mahony in 1896. An American observer said it best: "The first Brit to ever win this tournament in shorts."

When Djokovic hit his backhand into the net on championship point, Murray did not run to his mother, girlfriend, coach or fans. Instead, he went towards the press section, pumping his fist.

"Yeah, that was just what my eyes were kind of fixed on," Murray said later. "I was staring in the direction of quite a few guys in the press. Yeah, there's a subconscious part of me. Obviously I've had a difficult relationship at times; the last few years have been much better.

"I mean, I know for you guys it's important that I win this tournament. You know, I tried. Obviously I tried my best. I worked as hard as I could to do it."

He really did. But eventually the pressure, the weight of expectation, got to him. The presence of Ivan Lendl by his side has, however, changed all that. The former world No 1, who took over as Murray's coach in December 2011, has helped the Scot channel his energies and emotions. And the results have been there for all to see.

Since losing to Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final, Murray has won Olympic gold and the US Open. He reached the Australian Open final as well. And now he has got the crown that he, and all of Britain, crave the most. No wonder Lendl was the first person Murray hugged after his triumph.

"He's made me learn more from the losses than I did before and he's always been very honest with me and believed in me when other people maybe didn't," Murray said. "He's told me that he's proud of me after this and that means a lot coming from him."

Murray can now look to further conquests and the world No 1 ranking is a realistic target. Federer is not the force of old, Rafael Nadal is still wobbling on his knees and the Scot has defeated Djokovic in two grand slam finals now.

In fact, the 26-year-old Glaswegian has been the most consistent among the "Big Four" over the last 12 months when it comes to the majors: he has reached the final of the last four grand slams he has played.

"The next goal is to be the world No 1 and he already holds two grand slams," said Boris Becker, another former world No 1. "He needs to do everything he can to get that No 1 spot. There is a serious threat that he can do it."

If Murray can stay healthy, it could happen sooner than later.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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