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Sports Then and Now

Australian Open Final: Two Murrays

Posted on January 31, 2010 by Claudia Celestial Girl

Andy Murray struggled in his second Grand Slam final against Roger Federer.

Andy Murray struggled in his second Grand Slam final against Roger Federer.

One Murray showed up to play Rafael Nadal on the Australian Open quarter finals in Melbourne this year.  He came out on fire, pouncing on short balls, using his versatility on every shot, and playing ‘circus shots’ as soon as the chair umpire said ‘play.’  As if he knew that was what it took to get by a player with the talent of Rafael Nadal.  And as if he was motivated to get beyond the quarter finals.  As if he was the same age as the guy across the net, and just as good a player.  This Andy Murray played without letup for two whole sets.  Relentlessly aggressive, and respectful of what he was going to receive from the other side.

Another Murray showed up to start his semi-final match against Marin Cilic this year. Listless. Nervous. But when it looked like he was going to be out of the tournament, he came to life. The ‘other’ Murray manifested!

Let’s invent an avatar for this other Murray, and call him William Wallace Murray. We even have a visual to to with the avatar – it is the roaring face of Andy Murray at break point in the second set of the Cilic match! With face painted blue!

The second Murray showed up to play the final against Roger Federer. We can invent an avatar for this player too. We could call him Bonnie Prince Charlie – Murray, but that would be cruel. OK, let’s be cruel. There’s a visual to go with this avatar too. I can picture it now, a moment in 2008 at the Roger’s Cup in Toronto against Rafael Nadal, when he missed a put away and slammed his racket to the ground and made a mock barfing face. Or we could use one from this final: a grimace as he missed, yet again, one of his famous forehands down the line , one that he makes all the time on other, less momentous, occasions.

BPC-Murray (let’s shorten it) is not a total disaster. Against players outside of the top ten, BPC-Murray is crafty, capable, confident, in control. A great example of the efficacy of this Murray is his play against American John Isner in the 4th round. Even an American football player, visiting in the stands, could perceive the scary, deliberate, craftiness of this Murray as he probed and found the weaknesses of Isner, and then cruelly (and beautifully) wrapped him up, like spider with a fly.

It is increasingly evident that BPC-Murray cannot get the job done in best-of-five series’, playing against the top ten. Against Fernando Verdasco, at last year’s AO, he wilted. He could not get it done against Andy Roddick at Wimbledon, 2009. He racked up his worst loss ever against Marin Cilic at last year’s USO, playing like a man who had not managed his tournament in a way that left him with enough juice in the business end.

The question is – why does not Andy bring out William Wallace Murray more often? Clearly he has to be pushed pretty hard to metaphorically paint his face blue. Against Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo last year, he faced match point, and suddenly went into a phone booth, put on his cape, and manifested a fearless, aggressive player, who played his best clay court tennis, took it to Rafa, and produced, between the two of them, some of the most compelling tennis of the year (for a game and a tie-break). The craftiness stayed, but the ability to make his ‘circus shots’ and take risks — well, these are all that a tennis fan could wish to see, win or lose.

William Wallace Murray came to play in the third set of the Australian Open final. But not until Roger had build back a couple of break points and leveled the match. At 5-3 up, the match turned into the match we wanted to see, with Roger raising his game, and Murray fighting him off, and like the 2009 Monte Carlo match against Rafa Nadal, creating an extended, heart-stopping, finger-nail biting, edge of seat gripping, tie-break.

Murray could do little but watch as Federer hoisted his 16th Grand Slam trophy.

Murray could do little but watch as Federer hoisted his 16th Grand Slam trophy.

I’m going to suggest it is a lack of respect. Andy is confident of his game and thinks he can be BPC-Murray and get the job done. Except when he respects his opponent enough to man-up and prepare to release William Wallace Murray from his cage.

Andy does not respect (fear) Roger as much as he does Rafa. Roger and Andy’s mutual lack of respect (relative to other players on the tour), leads to their sniping at each other in the press prior to almost all of their matches.

In the long run this latent cockiness may produce a career in which Andy Murray may be a lot like Marat Safin. When Marat Safin was ‘on’ his game was versatile, compelling, beautiful, passionate, and highly skilled. Marat absolutely crushed Pete Sampras in the 2000 USO. In the 2005 Australian Open semi Marat played against Roger, we saw it all, every single technique. To the point where the match turned not on technique, but heart and physicality (fitness), and psychology. For a tennis fan, these are the things of which greatness comes. We will always love and respect Marat for his flashes of brilliance.

In Murray’s case, we know that William Wallace Murray exists, but we don’t get to see him very often until the business end of a major, if then. The challenge for Murray in his career will be to obtain a balance between cockiness and respect for his opponent in order to find a way to bring William Wallace Murray out when he needs him.

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