Murray deserves praise, not pressure

Single-handedly carrying the sporting hopes of a nation is tougher than winning a Grand Slam

“It’s more of a personal goal and a personal dream of mine… The historical thing, it’s not something I have thought about that much but it’s something that for me personally I want to try to win.”

So Andy Murray told a Slam-hungry media ahead of his collapse in the Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic last Sunday.  It goes without saying that winning a Grand Slam is the personal goal for any player.  But the fact is Murray can bleat till he’s blue in the face that the “historical thing” is not a factor.  It is.  It’s a huge and obvious pressure.  But it’s not his fault.

Now that the dust has settled, we can sit back and rationally assess Murray’s performance Down Under.  All in all, it was admirable.  A slightly dull first couple of rounds, an impressive third and fourth, a minor wobble in the quarters and a major stumble in the semi, which he showed impressive resilience to recover from and reach his second consecutive Australian Open final.  The misery of that match has been discussed in detail but, as a result, the bigger picture has been blurred.

Murray has now played in three Grand Slam finals: the US Open 2008 and the Australian Open 2010 and 2011.  That’s more than John Lloyd (one), Greg Rusedski (one) and Tim Henman (none) put together.  Murray has so far won 16 career titles – again more than Rusedski (15), Henman (11) and Lloyd (one).  He is playing in the toughest era ever, alongside the two greatest players of all time, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as well as the incredible Djokovic.  And he has beaten all three of them in finals before.  Slam or not, Murray is a brilliant player.  The problem is he’s also a British player.

For those who don’t know – and there will be many – the current British men’s singles #2 is James Ward.  In the latest world rankings, he is #215.  In other words, the second-highest ranked British player is nowhere near eligible to even qualify for a Grand Slam, let alone make it past the first round.  Sure, there’ll be the odd Wimbledon wildcard to give the home crowd something to cheer for – at least on day one, after which Murray is usually the last man standing.

In fairness, the women’s side looks slightly brighter.  Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong have made regular appearances in the Grand Slam main draws over the past year, with #1 Baltacha in particular making progress, breaking into the top 50 for the first time.  Meanwhile, youngsters Laura Robson and Heather Watson continue to show promise that they can rise even higher than their elder countrywomen.

But while “progress” and “promise” are all very well and good, what the British press and public really want, and soon, are results.  And instead of blaming Mr Murray when things go wrong, it’s the governing body of British tennis – the LTA – that should be heckled for not giving the Scot some support acts.

Rafa Nadal has a Spanish armada behind him on court: Ferrer, Verdasco and Almagro to name just those in the top 15.  Djokovic leads an impressive Davis Cup winning Serbian squad with Troicki and Tipsarevic, and even small Switzerland has given Federer some top 20 company in Stan Wawrinka.  When the closest compatriot Andy Murray has is over two hundred places below him it’s no wonder he finds it harder to lift the pressure with each final – he has to carry it all on his own.

If Britain is serious about winning another men’s Grand Slam, we have to start producing more players to pin our hopes on.  Andy Murray should be able to shoot for his personal goals.  The real pressure to deal with the “historical thing” should lie with the LTA.

Martin McGale

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