John McEnroe says it is only a matter of time before Andy Murray wins his first Grand Slam title – but he may have to wait before making his breakthrough. "I'm taking the pressure off him," McEnroe said when asked to predict when the 23-year-old Scot would win his first major crown. "If I had a guess, I would say it will come next year at the US Open."
The American, who will be commentating for the BBC when Wimbledon begins next Monday, is a big admirer of Murray and sees something of himself in the world No 4. He also has sympathy with anyone competing in an era dominated by two of the game's greats: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won 19 of the last 21 Grand Slam tournaments.
"Nadal appears poised to win the French Open a few more times and Roger's winning pretty much everything else," McEnroe said. "Everyone is saying: 'Who else is going to win?' Someone else sooner or later is going to win some of these tournaments. There's not a whole lot of guys who can actually win, so I'm thinking that for some of these guys it's going to happen for them. It's got to happen."
McEnroe, who puts Murray among the first rank of Grand Slam contenders, believes that modern-day fitness and training methods will give players the chance to remain competitive for years to come. He gave the example of Andy Roddick, who came closest to winning Wimbledon last summer at the age of 27.
Having won his own first Grand Slam title when he was 20, McEnroe said: "I'm glad that I don't have to go through it now. I can totally relate to what Andy Murray's going through. He's got more pressure in a way, because he hasn't broken through yet. I sort of took it for granted. I was like: 'Of course I've got to win a major.' I was 20 years old. Now all of a sudden it gets a lot more difficult."
He added: "There is more anxiety in Andy's case because everyone in Britain wants it so badly. He's been going through this for years already. You have a legitimate contender. Each year it grows and it gets that much worse. You would suspect if he gets through the first hurdle he could win another couple fairly quickly. But the first will be the sweetest."
McEnroe believes that Murray's recent indifferent form may be a legacy of his disappointment at not beating Federer in this year's Australian Open final, having also lost to the Swiss in his first Grand Slam final in 2008 at the US Open.
"The first time you could say it was a first-time experience and that you are going to learn from it, but it didn't seem like he learnt that much, so that probably hit him very hard," McEnroe said. "I was surprised that he didn't have more intensity. Even when he was 5-2 up in the third he seemed to be somewhat negative. I had the feeling if he had won that, he would have lost in four sets."
McEnroe believes hard courts give Murray his best chance and so was disappointed with the straight-sets defeat by Marin Cilic in last year's US Open fourth round, when he suspects the Scot may have over-trained.
"He seemed to be spent, mentally and physically," McEnroe said. "He does a lot of stuff and the routine got him to No 2 in the world, so you're very hesitant to make an adjustment, but what happened against Cilic? It felt like he had nothing left."
The American would also like to see Murray slow his first serve down, to achieve greater consistency, and agrees with those who say he should on occasions play more aggressively.
"Recently I've been hearing that he has been practising stepping in from the baseline, à la [Nikolay] Davydenko, practising with buckets of balls, stepping inside the baseline and being more aggressive. I think he probably recognises he has to do that because he does have a tendency to become a bit passive. Because he moves so well he can counter-attack."
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