Groundhog day for Andy Murray

After the Australian Open, I wrote that Andy Murray should be given credit for reaching the final and not criticism for losing it.  Two months on and the greatest Grand Slammer of all time, Martina Navratilova, says he needs “a change in attitude”.  Who am I to argue?

Murray has played singles in three tournaments since Melbourne, losing in the first round in all of them.  In Rotterdam he lost to then #21 Marcos Baghdatis.  At Indian Wells he was embarrassed by qualifier Donald Young, then world #143.

Last week, at the ongoing Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, he was dumped out by #118 Alex Bogomolov Jr.  In total he won twenty games and zero sets.  And with the hard court season (Murray’s favourite surface) effectively over and the top players looking to the clay (Murray’s least favourite surface) of the Monte Carlo Masters in a couple of weeks, things aren’t exactly looking up.

Of course, we’ve been here before with Murray.  Last year, in fact.  In a slightly astounding turn of events, the Scot’s trajectory in 2011 has so far been almost exactly the same as in 2010 – though, depressingly, even worse.

Last year, after losing the Aussie Open to Federer, he lost the second round in Dubai, made the quarter finals of Indian Wells before losing to Soderling, and – again – lost his first match in Miami, in that instance to Mardy Fish.  If we called that a slump then this is an all out collapse.

So, what’s the problem?  Well, if Martina is right (and she is) it’s all in his head.  “He’s got the talent but he’s got to get tougher mentally,” she says.  “He’s too quick to pass the blame, looking at his box and yelling at them as if it’s somehow their fault he missed that forehand.”

It is undeniable that, compared to the rest of the top 5, Murray is a whirlwind of emotion on court.  Federer and Soderling are machine-like with their expressionless composure; Djokovic reserves his animation for when he’s winning; and even hot headed #1 Nadal is able to keep his cool when it really counts.

But with Murray, the eye-rolling, the face-scrunching, the whinging at the umpires and sniping at the line judges – it looks like complete mental torture.  And when he starts hitting his knuckles with his racket until they bleed, physical torture too.

Murray isn’t the only one having a stinker of a year so far (though he is the most prominent).  Tomas Berdych seems to be stuck in the quarter-finals stage at the moment, and Fernando Verdasco has been off kilter since losing the San Jose final to Milos Raonic.

Interestingly, the women’s Australian Open runner-up, Li Na, has also not won a match since losing the Melbourne final.  Arguably, though, none of these players have the same pressure or expectation to succeed at the top level as Murray does.

Something’s gotta give.  The Scot has just recently announced his new full-time coach as hitting partner and best mate Dani Vallverdu.  Great, but given Murray’s exhausting history with (and without) coaches, this quick fix is surely not the answer to a run of form almost as bad as his stint on Outnumbered for Comic Relief.

To put The Slump into perspective, Murray teamed up with the dazzlingly dominant Djokovic for doubles in Miami.  They promptly lost in the first round.

Maybe he needs to sit down and hear some words of wisdom from Martina, who still believes he has it in him.  “I would have thought he would have won a Slam by now, though he still has plenty of time on his side.”  Funny, I’m sure I’ve heard that before…

Martin McGale

NOTE: I’m off for a break next weekend so the column will return in two weeks!

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