Andy Murray facing off-season of uncertainty after brutal admission
Decline from tennis greatness is never easy to watch. Sometimes, as was the case with Roger Federer, it is slow yet occasionally soothing. Other times, as we are seeing with Andy Murray, it is nothing short of heartbreaking.
While Federer had a full career, Murray had what could have easily been his peak years ripped from him by injury. There is, and now always will be, a sense of injustice, unfairness and unfulfillment about his career.
Make no mistake about it either, Andy Murray is a tennis great. It is easy to look at the Grand Slam haul of his contemporaries Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and scoff at the Scotsman’s three majors.
However, that would be making the error of humanising the achievements of the much talked about ‘big three’ and lumping them in with mere mortals. What Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have achieved has not redefined greatness in tennis – it has added a whole new level above it. And, in doing so, they have cemented Murray’s status as a great. After all, he matched them. Briefly, yes, but for a spell Murray was at their level.
While the majors didn’t stack up for Murray in the same numbers, he also achieved something that none of the big three ever did: universal popularity.
Speak to tennis fans around the world and you will struggle to find anyone with a bad word to say about him, his character or his tennis. Even when he was winning and managed to top the world rankings during the ‘big three era,’ a feat previously thought impossible by most, everyone rooted for Andy Murray. They still do, and that is what is making this all so hard.
The great thing about Murray was his ability to weave a narrative with his racket every time he took to a tennis court. He told a story, not always ones his most ardent fans appreciated at the time, it must be said, but a story nonetheless. Even on his most dominant days, he usually threw in a hurdle or two for himself to overcome.
Often, through sheer bloody mindedness alone, Andy Murray would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It became his trademark in many ways and was one of the things that made his matches must-watch events. He poured his passion and seemingly endless fighting spirit onto the court, expressing it in such a way that we, the viewer, could not help but live tennis with him and through him. There were, and still are, moments during Andy Murray matches when we are all Andy Murray.
However, since his borderline miraculous return from a hip resurfacing injury, expectation and empathy has turned to hope and, now, reluctant acceptance. In the first round at Paris Bercy this month against Alex de Minaur, Murray didn’t snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, he managed to carve out defeat from what looked like certain victory. Up 5-2 in the third, he lost 5-7. Understandably, and perhaps inevitably, it prompted some soul-searching.
Andy Murray obliterates his racket … on his way to the net to congratulate his opponent pic.twitter.com/VjgEIggRHN
— Paul Campbell (@campbellwpaul) October 30, 2023
“I don’t feel like I played particularly well today and I’m still in a three-set match with a guy ranked 13 in the world,” Murray said. “It’s frustrating. I’m not really enjoying it just now I would say just in terms of how I feel on the court and how I’m playing.”
The 36-year-old continued, “The last five, six months haven’t been that enjoyable, which doesn’t help things, so I need to try and find some of that enjoyment back because playing a match like that there’s not really much positivity there.
“When I play a good point, I’m not really getting behind myself and then in the important moments, that will to win and fight that has always been quite a big, big part of my game. Like I said, what happened today, I don’t remember it happening before, but it’s very, very rare. Those sorts of situations happen quite a lot this year, and that’s not really me. It’s not enjoyable.”
Whether the interview was a significant moment or not remains to be seen, but it felt like it was. Murray has always been a brutally honest interviewee and that is, again, something that has endeared him to millions. Perhaps he was letting off some steam, but perhaps it was an admission of substance.
After all, despite never getting close to his pre-injury level, Murray has always been adamant on one thing: he was enjoying his tennis regardless of results. For anyone who watched his career too, you could tell he was telling the truth. For him to outright come out and admit he is not enjoying it now, and has not been for ‘months’ does not bode well.
Nor does the timing of it either. With the season rolling towards a conclusion, Murray is going to have a decision to make about what he does next. For tennis players, the off-season is often the most difficult and least enjoyable time of the year, and you have to assume Murray will be asking himself if it is still worth it considering his lack of enjoyment on the court.
“Sometimes you play really well in practice and it doesn’t necessarily translate onto the match court, but you at least feel like you’re getting somewhere,” he said. “Whereas for the most part in practice it’s not been great. A lot of frustration there in training, and that’s kind of carrying over into the matches.
“If I want to keep going, I’m going to need a lot of work. It’s not just going to be like one or two weeks of training to get me to where I need to get to, it’s going to have to be a lot of work and consistent work to give myself a chance.”
It could go the other way, of course. That sheer bloody-mindedness could well kick in and he could see it as an opportunity to defy the odds again – to weave one last narrative with his racket. Perhaps that Paris Bercy defeat could prove the catalyst for one final run of note, for one final chapter in the story of the man many consider to be Britain’s greatest ever sportsman.
It is difficult to say which way it is all going to go, but one thing we can now be certain of is that, one way or another, the remarkable Andy Murray story is coming to a conclusion.
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