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Just don’t mention the T-word next time, Andy


 

Originally published on: 05/03/10 15:40

It’s probably not quite the way he pictured it, but 2010 is fast becoming Andy Murray’s year.

He was all smiles at the start of January alongside Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup, but ended the month in tears after a valiant run to the Australian Open final saw him lose once more to Roger Federer. But then there was February, which seemed to be more about what Murray didn’t do than what he did.

After opting not to defend his title in Rotterdam – which lost him his world No.3 ranking – a last-minute withdrawal with fatigue from the Open13 in Marseille left tournament director Francois Caujolle tearing his hair out, prompting him to call on the ATP to suspend the Scot for leaving the event without its two marquee players. “Murray did the same thing to me last year,” said Caujolle, who had only just learnt of Juan Martin del Potro’s withdrawal with a wrist injury when Murray’s apologetic email arrived. “He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one.

“A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The No.1 seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.”

Caujolle soon cooled off and backtracked on his comments, but he has probably watched events in Dubai unfold with added interest. Murray did at least travel to the Emirate for his first ATP World Tour fixture of 2010, but after labouring through his first-round match against Igor Kunitsyn he lost to world No.39 Janko TIpsarevic in the next round, playing some uncharacteristically gung-ho tennis.

It was an eyebrow-raising performance to say the least. The trusty backhand was transformed into a scattergun, blazing errors left, right and long. He serve-volleyed and approached the net far more than we’ve seen before, and paid the price against the Serb, who played a solid game, but not exactly out of his skin. Even casual observers could see that Murray was intent on winning points quickly, looking for winners far earlier and hitting the ball much harder. He was, in short, testing his limits, and Tipsarevic exposed them in a 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4 win.

But the real pyrotechnics began after the match, apparently, when Murray more or less admitted that he had indeed been in an experimental mood. “The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve‑and‑volley and coming forward, you know and taking more risks,” he said after the match. “I would have liked to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a Slam or something, my tactics and my game style would have been a bit different.”

And with that, Murray left himself open to questions about his commitment. The T word – training – brought with it the notion of Murray not being interested in the competition or particularly bothered about winning in Dubai. Tournament director Colm McLoughlin said later, “We are not disputing Andy’s effort but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament.”

Unfortunately for McLoughlin, those fans were spot on. That is exactly how Murray treated the event, one that he had said in the build up was, “alongside Queen’s Club in London, my favourite event to play where I have the choice.” It is also an event he received a reported £260,000 appearance fee for playing at, in a city which afforded him a few nights in the seven-star surroundings of the £2,400-a-night Burj al Arab hotel.

But you have to ask, just who was it that has lost their sense of perspective – Murray, or the tournament organisers? On the one hand, the Scot might have been expected to be better prepared before entering an ATP World Tour event, but his tactics, and his long-term aspirations – from Dubai he heads to Indian Wells and Miami for the year’s first two Masters 1000 events, having reached the final and won the events respectively last year – should not be determined in return for the hospitality afforded to him as one of the world’s top players.

The fact is Murray is starting to get the balance of his tournament calendar just about right. He has played fewer tournaments in the past year that count towards his ranking than any other player in the world’s top 20 – just 17 – and yet has accumulated enough points to put the daylight of nigh-on 1000 of them between himself and del Potro at No.5. Had he won the Australian Open final he would have stood at No.3 right now. Had he won the Australian Open, he might have entered his first ATP event of the year in a different frame of mind.

Do not doubt the psychological impact of Murray’s defeat to Federer in Melbourne four weeks ago. The world No.4, along with eventual Dubai champion Novak Djokovic, is still clutching at the coattails of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and has one goal in mind – his first Grand Slam. To be a match away and see it not so much slip from his grasp as prove just a step too far against the Swiss was undoubtedly a telling blow to his confidence.

But it changes little. The Scot has done and will do whatever it takes to lift one of the big four, and if that means experimenting with his game in a competitive match, as far as he’s concerned, so be it.

There will be those who will point out Federer and Nadal’s commitment to their full tour schedules during the purplest of their purple patches, winning a string of events as they cemented their world No.1 spots and places among the greats of the modern game. But a quick glance at Rafa’s creaking knees should serve as warning enough to Murray and Co that mismanagement of a successful schedule can come at what appears a severe cost.

Ironically, had Murray arrived at the press conference and simply rebuffed journalists’ claims that he had a different agenda out on court for what is – regardless of the money involved – a third-tier Tour event, and instead called it a bad day at the office, the press would have called him on it but the tournament directors would have had no stick with which to currently beat him.

Sadly, for the next few months that is probably exactly what we can expect from Murray. He will most likely retreat from the candid commentary, both self-defending and self-critical, we’ve become accustomed to. And who can blame him? It has taken Murray so long to feel comfortable with the press since the infamous burning he took for his “anyone-but-England” comment as he chatted about the World Cup with Tim Henman back in 2006. And now, in another World Cup year, telling the truth has landed him in the centre of another debacle.

The ATP disciplinary committee are still to meet on the issue, but hopefully this latest example will get the storm-in-a-teacup treatment it deserves. After speaking to Murray’s management, McLoughlin has now admitted, “We’ve all read the after-match comments Andy made to the media and Andy’s management company is saying these were taken out of context. He has always been very direct with the press and there is no question that he did not give all his efforts in the match against Janko Tipsarevic. Andy tried his best and anyone who watched the match can vouch for that – we look forward to welcoming Andy back at the Championships next year.”

So what have we learned: Andy Murray speaks his mind and can sometimes leave himself open to criticism? We knew that. Tournament officials want their events to be the be all and end all to the players? Obviously.

No, here’s the take-home message: if you are going to use a tournament as a practice session, keep quiet about it.

What do you think? Have your say below.

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