Friday 15 December 2017

Murray must seize his shot at greatness

James Lawton

James Lawton

ANDY MURRAY may never again have an imperative quite so weighty as the one that sits on his shoulders when he walks on to Centre Court today. He has to create one of the great convulsions in Wimbledon history by beating Rafa Nadal.

He has to define precisely who and what he thinks he is -- a young man born to be a great champion or someone who might never quite get his head around such an uplifting idea.

He has to play not just with the brilliance that has been increasingly evident these last few days but the conviction that, at 24, this is his time, his moment, and that if it passes him by it may never come again, at least not on quite the same tide of encouragement.

He must not only put faith in his natural ability to play tennis sublimely enough to trouble any opponent, including the relentless Nadal, but also not be scared of the magnitude and attention that will come if he becomes the first British champion in 75 years.

For so long it seems that Murray has struggled to grasp quite how good he is. Introspection of an often bleak kind can descend upon him as quickly as a hawk swooping on a victim. Twice he has, however harsh it sounds, betrayed himself at the highest level of the game.

Here two years ago he allowed Andy Roddick to have his own belligerent way. In Melbourne at the start of this year he was not only eviscerated in the final of the Australian Open by Novak Djokovic, but so badly traumatised some feared he might be broken for ever.

Yet almost all the recent evidence says that the wounds are healed and that his impressive play in Paris and his win at Queen's really did speak of a new Murray, a more seasoned, tougher character less susceptible to the controlled competitive fury of Nadal.

Yes, it is still a huge reach even when you have retraced Murray's impressive march into the second week of the tournament, his brisk and authoritative dismissal of the potentially dangerous Richard Gasquet and the dismemberment of Feliciano Lopez.


Neither win was likely even to graze the confidence of the reigning champion Nadal but Murray's court time was the chance to reveal rather more than a mere hint of new composure.

That doesn't automatically put any more mustard on his second serve -- a weakness that some believe Nadal will exploit -- but it might just say that if the champion is to win, and brush aside the fear that the cortisone treatment he is now receiving before every match is not a guarantee against a further eruption of his injury, he may well have to do it without the help of his opponent.

It certainly cannot harm Murray's psyche that at least two former Wimbledon champions -- Boris Becker and Richard Krajicek -- are prepared to go public with their belief that this may indeed be the moment when the boy from Dunblane becomes a fully grown competitor of the most enviable talent.

Krajicek was just a few months older than Murray is today when he created a sensation at Wimbledon in 1996. The Dutchman knocked out Pete Sampras -- who had won three straight titles before going down in the quarter-final -- and went on to take the crown with a three-set defeat of the lightly regarded American MaliVai Washington.

Krajicek insisted that this indeed could be the moment when Murray rearranges the tennis order.

"It is so much harder today because back when I beat Sampras, a Grand Slam could suddenly open up if the big player lost. Now, when Federer goes down, we still have Nadal and Djokovic and Murray. This is truly a great age of tennis but, yes, I do believe Andy Murray has his best chance," he said.

"I still felt that he would probably have to win another Grand Slam before he could do it here because of all the pressure he faces. But I no longer believe he cannot win Wimbledon this time. In the last few days he has convinced me he can do it. Murray does have the game to win, he has every shot you would want."

Though his Wimbledon triumph was his only Grand Slam title, Krajicek produced perfectly the achievement demanded of Murray today. He beat Sampras in straight sets, 7-5 7-6 6-4, delivering the great American's only defeat in eight years of Wimbledon action, and compiled a 6-4 winning record against the man who for so long squeezed the life out of all opposition.

Krajicek can always tell himself that there was a time, a handful of vital moments, when he used every single one of his assets -- and it was a day that will always make him proud. It may be helpful to Andy Murray that Krajicek wants him to know that a similar gift could be in his possession before the end of today. (© Independent News Service)


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