Yes, when Andy Murray first burst onto the scene back in 2004 winning ‘BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year’ award he was tipped for greatness and after impressive runs as a wild card in both Queens and Wimbledon the following year, when ranked in the 300s and only 18 years of age, he was widely described as the UK's brightest sporting hope. It was already seen as an inevitability that Murray would win a Grand Slam and it was just a case of how long.
Much of his predicament can be put down to circumstance. If we compare his Grand Slam stats to former World Number 1’s before the domination of Federer, Nadal and more recently Djokovic, Murray matches up to many. In Hewitt’s brief 2 year spell at number 1, he won both Wimbledon and the US Open. However his dominance at the top was short lived and outside of these two wins he has reached 2 more Grand Slam finals, 4 semis and has never made it past the quarter finals stages of the French Open. Murray has reached 3 Grand Slam finals and 4 semi finals, including this year’s semi at the French Open.
Before Hewitt was Kuerten who won 3 French Opens but never passed the quarter finals in any of the other grand slams. Sure there was Sampras and Agassi before them but Andy’s stats put him firmly ahead of anyone else from this period and with Agassi being absent for much of the 90s he would quite probably have been number 2 for much of this time. The question being raised is whether Andy is just unfortunate.
After all, the gap between Murray’s current ranking points and number 5 in the world, Robert Soderling’s, is larger than between Soderling and number 18 in the world Mikhail Youzhny, clearly highlighting the gap between the ‘big 4’ and everyone else. This was further solidified by the ‘big 4’ taking up all 4 semi-finals slots at The French Open, a tournament which of all the Grand Slams historically throws up the most surprises due to ground conditions and specialist clay court players.
Had injury not struck Nadal in his quarter final match at this year’s Australian Open the same thing may have happened there with Federer, Djokovic and Murray all cruising through to the semis. Similarly at Wimbledon 3 of the ‘4’ made it to the semis with the ‘shock of the tournament’ being the only reason all 4 didn’t make it to the semis of this Grand Slam too. This ‘shock’ was of course grass specialist Tsonga’s astounding comeback against Roger Federer from 2 sets down.
Yet to blame this as the sole reason for Murray’s lack of Grand Slam silverware is questionable. After all it wasn’t too long ago that many felt Murray had surpassed Djokovic and that Novak’s solitary Australian Open win was beginning to look like a one off. Yet at the time of writing, Djokovic has managed to surpass both Federer and Nadal to claim 2 of the 3 Grand Slams this year and with it the number 1 world ranking in what has been an incredible season. So the precedent is there for Murray, it can be done but after looking like the faster developer of the two many argue he has plateaued. With many quick to describe this as another disappointing and in some cases a ‘poor’ season for Murray a quick look at the stats is required.
In terms of Grand Slam success (the basis of this article) Murray is having his most successful season to date. He made the Australian Open final for the second year running, made the semi finals of the French Open for the first time and made the semis of Wimbledon for the third year running actually taking the 1st set from Nadal. It is already his best record at Grand Slams in any year and that is without setting foot on Flushing Meadows which is arguably his favoured surface of the 4. His domination at the highly competitive Queens tournament recently must also be mentioned.
Clearly, on this data Murray is making progress. He may not have developed at the same rapid rate as Novak or even Rafa but there is cause for optimism in this year’s record and far from denouncing his chances this year, tennis fans and British fans should be taking note of this continued improvement as it spells positive signs for the future, not negative ones. One thing is for certain, Rory McIlroy’s sports personality award will breathe a sigh of relief if Andy Murray is to walk away from Flushing Meadows without the winner’s trophy.