James Lawton: Instead of his fans' blind faith Murray needs belief in himself

What is the good of a searing backhand, an array of lacerating passing shots and an often sublime touch,if they are so often left in the armoury?

In one way at least, Murraymania is a misnomer. It is not maniacal to believe that a player as talented as the man from Dunblane can win Wimbledon. However, we can hardly pretend, at least not those of us who don't automatically lose our marbles at the first glimpse of Henman Hill, it is much more than a fancy based on an act of faith.

There are moments, we have seen again this year, when he unfurls a game that can compete with the men who present such a barrier to his breakthrough: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

He has exquisite shots which so often lift him above the wearisome evidence of an ill-formed competitive nature. When he swears and yelps and gesticulates his frustration to a stony-faced entourage, you do not consign him to the waste bin of futility because you know that his very next act might be a shot which any of the tennis greats would have happily borrowed. So there is obligatory respect for the potential of one of the most gifted performers of his generation.

Where the faith, even irrationality, enters the calculation is with the assumption that because he feels good about himself for the moment, because he won a depleted Queen's with an extravagant flourish and produced his best ever tennis on the red clay of Paris, there is a compelling reason to believe that he has significantly closed the gap between himself and the three best players in the world.

This, let's be honest, has rather more to do with the annual wishfulness of the Centre Court crowd than any hard evidence that Murray has managed the quantum leap required to win a Grand Slam against opponents who, after making their own such moves down the years, have accumulated a total of 28 majors.

Djokovic, it is true, has a mere two of them but when he collected his second, at Murray's expense in Melbourne at the start of this year, he quite clinically defined the difference between the players. It was not a matter of ability but belief and, if Murray showed impressive improvement in Paris, his semi-final defeat to Nadal at Roland Garros underlined the old deficiency of the Scot.

It is one impossible to avoid now, despite the time-honoured national conviction that the start of Wimbledon is a time to leave realism in the lost property drawer at Southfields Tube station.

The potentially mislaid item on this occasion is the fact that in the two years since Murray squandered his most promising Wimbledon situation, with a passive betrayal of the best of his game against Andy Roddick, he is still to demonstrate that when the stakes are at their highest he can locate the vital reservoirs of self-confidence.

Murray still seems to believe that victory sometimes comes to those who are least prepared to make a mistake, who hope not so much to shape circumstances but exploit the right ones when they happen to emerge.

It is not, by and large, a characteristic of any of the great champions of sport.

Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash has put it most bluntly in the build-up to Murray's latest challenge, saying: "If he sticks to his usual tactics it will prove to be disastrous against Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. How many times have we seen him go passive when the stakes are raised, seemingly lacking any cohesive game plan?"

Some may say Cash's assessment is excessively brutal at a point when the quality of Murray's play – and his mood – has risen so sharply out of the abyss which came after Djokovic's dismembering of his hopes in the Australian Open. But then Cash is Australian – and no sporting nation on earth has been less queasy about confronting the realities of top-level competition.

Cash's contention is surely beyond dispute. Murray is a brilliant talent, on quite another level from the gallant Tim Henman, who battled for so long and carried such hopes against his ultimate shortfall in major ability, but what is the good of a searing backhand, a series of lacerating passing shots and an often sublime touch, if they are so often left in the armoury rather than carried to the battlefield?

Yes, of course Murray can win Wimbledon. But not before finding his missing dimension. He is 24 now, hardly close to midnight it is true, but at the same age Djokovic has moved beyond him both in terms of consistent, record-breaking performance, and the most rigorous self-examination.

So how can we believe easily that Murray, as if by some newly discovered magic, can now produce those vital attributes which have so relentlessly gone missing at the most vital moments?

Has he performed, at a time in his career when Federer and Nadal had amassed between them a haul of 18 Grand Slam titles, some seamless transformation of his spirit?

Have the ratty protests against unjust fate suddenly given way to a sure and unbroken instinct for gaining the major success that will always be the yardstick for separating the great from the merely good?

There are, of course, wider and equally intriguing issues. Can Djokovic recover the certainties that deserted him in Paris? Is Nadal telling all when he says he is refreshed and restored after his weary subsidence at Queen's?

Is the sublime Federer, at 29, doing more than yodelling his fondest hopes when he says that he feels strong enough, confident enough, to win his 17th Grand Slam, five majors since his last success in Melbourne?

Positive answers to any of these questions could, whatever the buoyancy of the local hero, well prove decisive. For Murray, though, there is one imperative that has never been so pressing. He has to persuade himself that indeed it is time for him to play the tennis of his life, unfettered, optimistic, and, as such, worthy of the most serious support.

Short of this, it is surely more tears for the folks on the hill.

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions