James Lawton: I used to have my doubts about Andy... not any more
Tuesday 10 July 2012
Research is at quite an early stage but apparently there is still a large body of opinion that Andy Murray, rather than making striking progress towards finding a more comfortable place among the most formidable elite his game has ever known, merely confirmed his status as a serial loser on the Centre Court on Sunday.
Though the move would lack any legal underpinning, those holding such a view would ideally be put under house arrest until the completion of a summer of British sport in which analysis of authentic, world-class performance will never have been fiercer or more prolonged.
It might not have much impact on Olympic traffic jams but would surely reduce stress levels for all those who take the trouble to notice that in winning and losing there are many degrees – and that sometimes it is necessary to lose in a certain way before you can make that final step into the column of the winners.
For someone who in the past has been quite a heavy critic of Murray's slack discipline, his self-indulgent furies and apparent belief that he had sufficient talent to win almost entirely on his own terms, it is certainly no hardship to believe that he indeed produced a performance against the peerless Roger Federer that casts his chances of one day winning a Grand Slam event, and maybe even Wimbledon, in an entirely new and brighter light.
No, he is not likely ever to match the serenity of Federer's genius – no one ever has in the history of the game, and who would bet on it ever happening? The same is probably true of Murray's ability to step beyond the surgical brilliance of Novak Djokovic at his best or the heart-warming warrior tendencies of Rafael Nadal.
However, Murray did show us his acceptable face – and competitive heart – while losing to a Federer who reached astonishingly revived levels of excellence in pushing his Grand Slam victories to 17, three beyond the mark of Pete Sampras which for so long seemed unsurpassable.
Murray stood and fought and produced qualities which had previously been unsuspected – most impressively, given his past, his refusal to see every piece of Federer magic as just another part of a worldwide conspiracy to blight his hopes.
Even the former Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade, who so recently described him as a "drama queen", joined the likes of Boris Becker and John McEnroe in applauding an effort that was not only easily Murray's best in a Grand Slam final but also a kind of purging. Of what, though? Mostly it was that stomach-churning body language of self-pity, that refusal to see a situation for what it was rather than what it might have been.
There was also that belief that Murray had only to answer to the demands he made on himself, that there was no one around with the knowledge and bitter experience concerning the difficulties of translating mere talent, however generously bestowed, into a consistently winning force when it mattered most.
Plainly, the flinty-eyed Ivan Lendl has been an inspired choice to fill such a vacuum. He can say, in his taciturn way, precisely how it is to take the hardest defeats but still retain the belief that one day you will indeed set foot in the Promised Land. At Wimbledon, Lendl, who won eight Grand Slam titles, including three straight US Opens, never made that final step, losing to Boris Becker and Pat Cash in consecutive finals. But even then he refused to accept that he couldn't win on grass, making huge efforts to improve on the surface. His reward was three semi-finals and maybe the satisfaction that he could always tell himself, and now Murray, that he gave himself every chance of winning the great prize.
Murray carried himself well throughout his third defeat to Federer in a Grand Slam final and if anyone doubted that he had pushed himself to his limits, his tears provided an ample rebuff.
He also had the grace to apologise to his conqueror for briefly stealing away the attention due to a remarkable winner.
Federer was generous enough in his assessment of Murray's performance, saying that it had given him a deep-down sense that one day he would indeed pick up a Grand Slam trophy. Saying such a thing has become almost a ritual, a ceremonial patting on the head of someone destined to be permanently excluded from the game's inner circle. But you had to suspect it wasn't so this time. Murray lost again but this time defeat had a different resonance. It was of a superior competitor who had gone away and thought about what he could do with what was left of his talent and his hopes.
Against Federer, his conclusion was evident enough. The greatest goals might just be still in front of him. Serial loser, you say? Certainly not from the perspective of this once disparaging corner, where he looked rather more like a contender who had grown notably stronger at some broken and extremely discouraging places.
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