Murray's on mission improbable
US Open victory may have lifted a great weight off Scot's shoulders but history is against him again
Andy Murray and statistics go together like Australians and barbecues. Ask the Scot about one of his past matches and he will usually tell you the score, when serves were broken and even how particular points were won. It can come as a disappointment when he fails to recall his first-serve percentage. It was a surprise, therefore, when Murray admitted here in Melbourne yesterday that he was unaware of a remarkable statistic about Grand Slam champions.
Research by the Sporting Intelligence website reveals that it is 57 years since a man won his first Grand Slam title and went on to win the next Grand Slam tournament. The last player to do so was Lew Hoad, who in 1956 won the Australian Open – when only four non-Australians entered – and then the French Open. In the Open era, the average wait for a second title is six Grand Slam tournaments.
Murray, who is second favourite, behind Novak Djokovic, to win the Australian Open, beginning tomorrow, has looked like a man with a great burden lifted from his shoulders ever since his triumph at the last Grand Slam event, the US Open in September, but said yesterday that he did not know how he would feel when he goes on court on Tuesday for his first match, against the Dutchman Robin Haase.
"I have no idea how I'm going to play here," Murray said. "On the day when I play my first match, I could be unbelievably nervous. I don't know what effect it will have on me until I'm put in that situation. But I also know how hard these events are to win. If I don't win the Australian Open, I don't think it will be down to having won the US Open. It's down to the level of competition and how tough it is to win these events rather than what happened four or five months ago."
Murray admitted, nevertheless, that winning a Grand Slam title after four successive defeats in finals had lifted a burden. "Maybe I was having to prove something every time I went on the court, because I hadn't won a Slam," he said.
"Even when I won a Masters Series [tournament] people still always asked me about the Slams, so it's nice not to have to worry about that any more. I think it will also help me throughout the rest of the year on the Tour, because I just won't be worrying and thinking about the Slams all the time."
Murray rejected a suggestion that he might be too relaxed and not "revved up" enough. "I'm very revved up – that's not the issue," he said. "I feel more relaxed than I have done the week before a Slam.
"I felt that way after the US Open and most of the tournaments I played between then and the end of the year, but I didn't work hard in Miami in the off-season to come in and just not be focused or too relaxed or anything like that. I didn't train over there for four weeks to come here and put in a really bad performance. I plan on playing well here."
The Scot has an excellent recent record at the Australian Open. He reached the final in 2010 and 2011, losing to Roger Federer and Djokovic respectively, and lost to Djokovic in a marathon semi-final 12 months ago. The latter was the first Grand Slam tournament at which Murray and his coach, Ivan Lendl, worked together. Both men feel they learned much from Murray's defeat. Lendl said: "I watched the second and fifth set of last year's semi-final [on video]. It was interesting. I picked up things – but I'm not going to tell you what they are."
Murray was more forthcoming, saying he had talked with Lendl weeks earlier about the need to be positive in matches against the best players. "I went about the whole match the right way, even though I lost it, and the same thing happened at Wimbledon [in the final]," Murray said. "I was just a few points away from being a set and a break up. I felt that was the main thing that I learned from it.
"I was playing the right way in those matches. I was taking my chances. I wasn't waiting for the guys to miss. I think that's why I got over those two matches in particular a lot quicker than the previous Slam final or semi-final losses."
Lendl remains highly competitive, as Jez Green, Murray's lead strength and conditioning coach, discovered to his cost last month. Lendl won a physical training contest to which he had challenged Green, for which the price of defeat was an appearance at Murray's pre-tournament press conference yesterday.
"Ivan is a far superior physical specimen than myself, all this despite a near 13-year age gap," Green said, reading from a statement prepared for him by Lendl. "I apologise for my performance. I feel very bad about myself."
Jamie Baker, who at No 246 in the world rankings is the British No 2, joins Murray in the main draw after a splendid 6-4 1-6 6-3 victory in the final round of qualifying over Donald Young of the United States. James Ward lost 6-3 7-5 to Germany's Julian Reister.
Baker, 26, who also qualified here five years ago but has never won a match at a Grand Slam tournament, has a first-round meeting on Tuesday with Lukas Rosol, the Czech who knocked out Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last summer.
A friend of Murray's since they were boys, Baker joined the world No 3 at his training camp last month. Asked whether Lendl had passed on any useful tips, Baker smiled: "He just says, 'Go out and win, go out and kill the guy.' Except he doesn't say it as nicely as that."
How the big names fared trying to add to that first Major title
Player/Nationality/Slam titles/First Slam victory/Slams before second title
Roger Federer Switzerland/17/Wimbledon 2003/2
Pete Sampras US/14/US 1990/11
Bjorn Borg Sweden/11/French 1974/4
Rafa Nadal Spain/11/French 2005/4
Jimmy Connors US/8/Australian 1974/2
Ivan Lendl Czechoslovakia/8/French 1984/6
Andre Agassi US/8/Wimbledon 1992/9
Mats Wilander Sweden/7/French 1982/3
John McEnroe US/7/US 1979/4
Boris Becker West Germany/6/Wimbledon 1985/3
Stefan Edberg Sweden/6/Australian 1985/7
Novak Djokovic Serbia/5/Australian 2008/12
Guillermo Vilas Argentina/4/French 1977/2
Jim Courier US/4/French 1991/3
Arthur Ashe US/3/US 1968/5
Jan Kodes Czechoslovakia/3/French 1970/4
Gustavo Kuerten Brazil/3/French 1997/12
Ilie Nastase Romania/2/US 1972/2
Stan Smith US/2/US 1971/3
Lleyton Hewitt Australia/2/US 2001/3
Johan Kriek South Africa/2/Austalian 1981/4
Sergi Bruguera Spain/2/French 1993/4
Pat Rafter Australia/2/US 1996/4
Yevgeny Kafelnikov Russia/2/French 1996/11
Marat Safin Russia/2/US 2000/17
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