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.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home