'Andy has to find an extra gear to win a Grand Slam'

Former British number one Tim Henman says Murray has got what it takes to be champion in New York, writes Paul Newman

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tim Henman reached the semi-finals of six Grand Slam tournaments but never made it to a final. Andy Murray has played in seven Grand Slam semi-finals and won three of them but has yet to win his first major title.

The cynics might suggest that Murray is starting to play out a similar "nearly man" role to his predecessor as British No 1, but Henman will have none of it. As Murray prepares for the US Open, which is due to start today, Henman believes it is only a matter of time before the 24-year-old Scot ends Britain's long wait for a male Grand Slam champion.

"I think Andy's is a very different scenario to mine," Henman said. "I reached four semis at Wimbledon in five years. Certainly I never felt: 'I wonder if that's going to be my last chance.' What I did come to realise was that the slowing-down of the courts at Wimbledon gave me less of an advantage and opened up opportunities for a lot of other players.

"Andy's been so efficient in getting through to the semis that I think he'll have many, many more opportunities. He's only 24. Of course he's aware that he's been in three Grand Slam finals and not won one, but you have to take the positives out of that and look at the tennis he's played. He played such good tennis to get to those finals. If you can play like that then of course you can win a Grand Slam."

Henman, who was back at the All England Club last weekend in his role as ambassador for the HSBC Road to Wimbledon, Britain's largest junior grass-court tournament, added: "If you're in the final you're pretty close anyway. Andy's challenge now is not only to reach the line but find a way to get over it. That I would say is his biggest challenge. He has to find that extra gear."

One area in which Henman thinks Murray can improve is by not letting matches slip from his grasp. "In the Australian Open final [Novak] Djokovic was serving at 4-4 and 15-30 when Andy had a relatively easy smash to go 15-40 up. I was thinking: 'He's the one in control and looking like he can dominate here.' Then suddenly 15 minutes later it's 6-4, 5-0 to Djokovic. Andy seemed to lose his way. That's probably a mental thing.

"It was similar in the semis against [Rafael] Nadal at Wimbledon. Andy won the first set, missed that forehand early in the second set and the match suddenly changed. And you would say that if the shoe was on the other foot that wouldn't have happened to Nadal and Djokovic. If they had missed those shots in different scenarios they wouldn't have had 20-minute spells like Andy had afterwards. I would say that's an area where he can work on.

"But it's so easy to talk about it. When you're out there playing in the current environment it's tough. [Roger] Federer and Nadal are going to go down as two of the greatest of all-time. Now you're wondering whether Djokovic could go and win six or eight Slams. I think he could. Why not? Then you're thinking: 'Wow, Murray's playing in a generation that includes three of the greatest players of all time.' But he wouldn't want it any other way."

Henman agrees with Murray's contention that standards have risen sharply at the top of the men's game. He has watched in awe at the tennis in some of the matches this year, such as Federer's victory over Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French Open.

"The quality of the tennis in that match was off the charts," Henman said. "That was probably the best clay-court performance of Federer's life. It's nearly four years since I stopped playing and I felt that the game changed in the first two years afterwards. Then it changed again in the third year and now it's gone up again. The athletic ability of the top players has gone up, but it's also the way they're hitting the ball. It's very difficult to get these guys out of position. Even on the stretch they're so strong physically."

Who does Henman think will triumph at Flushing Meadows? "I would see Djokovic as the favourite. It's hard for Nadal. It's definitely the Slam where he's at his most vulnerable because the balls and the courts are quick. It's much harder for him to control and people can dominate him from the back of the court. I would say this is Federer and Murray's best surface and I'd see them as second favourites ahead of Nadal."