Thursday 22 March 2018

Tennis: Questions abound over Murray's major potential after US Open exit

Mark Hodgkinson in New York

Andy Murray's New York summer began on the pages of 'American Vogue', all glossy and full of hope, and ended in the margins of the city's tabloids, where they were calling him the best player of his generation not to have won a Grand Slam.

For Murray, this was a hugely unsatisfactory end to his US Open and to his Grand Slam year, with a third-round defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka, his earliest departure at the majors for more than two years.

It was not so long ago that you would hear discussions about "when" Murray would win his first Slam title. As Flushing Meadows examined this result, it feels as though that debate has shifted from 'when' to 'if'.

While Murray is not old for a tennis player at 23, he is not young either, and there are plainly several areas of concern for the Scot.

Physical: His body has been hardened in the gym and on the track, and during yoga sessions. But this was the second consecutive year that he struggled physically in New York while losing a match he was supposed to win; last summer he had a wrist injury and was beaten in the fourth round by Croatia's Marin Cilic.

The first time he had treatment against Wawrinka it was for his legs, and the second time it was because he felt pins and needles in his arm.

Still, it should be noted that Wawrinka was not in perfect shape, and had strapping applied around his right leg, just above the knee, and yet he still found a way to win.

In the past, Murray has shown a tendency to be a bit of a drama queen, which did not make it easy to assess the extent to which he was affected by those ailments.

Mental: It was John McEnroe's opinion that it looked as though Murray was fighting himself, and not Wawrinka, and he should know about these things.

When Murray served for a two-set lead, he was broken, and as events turned against him, he turned on himself. Murray was frustrated by his physical issues, but every time he punched his strings, or raged, it was not helping him to win.

Tactical: Too often, Murray was too passive and defensive. When he defeated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in Toronto last month, to win his first title of the season, he did so by playing aggressive tennis. It was Wawrinka, though, who was going for his shots here. Murray lost to an opponent who was playing the sort of attacking game he is more than capable of.

Coaching: For Murray, the next couple of years are going to be key, which is why it is all the more important that he makes the right decision about his future coaching arrangements. Murray was adamant that this defeat would not push him into making any silly moves.

Competition: While you can choose your coach, you cannot choose your era, and it is Murray's misfortune that this is the most difficult time in tennis history to win a Slam. Federer and Nadal have won 20 of the last 22 Grand Slams, a remarkable duopoly.

Yet Federer and Nadal had no bearing on Murray's US Open. He never got far enough to meet either of them. Still, men's tennis could look very different in a year or two years or three, if Federer suddenly starts to wonder whether he has played enough tennis for one lifetime, or if Nadal's knee problems flare up again. But a couple of players younger than Murray could have broken through by then.

"I don't know if I'll ever win a Grand Slam," said Murray.

  • In the women's draw, three-time major champion Maria Sharapova lost to top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-4 in last night's fourth round match.

The victory put the 20-year-old Dane into the quarters against Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova at 45th the lowest ranked player remaining. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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