Will Murray's flex appeal scupper his Slam plans?
McEnroe advises Scot to 'slack off more like Federer' after latest disappointing exit
Thursday 10 September 2009
Andy Murray's reaction to defeat is usually the same: he will go away and work harder. After his hugely disappointing exit from the US Open here on Tuesday night, when he was beaten in the fourth round by Marin Cilic, you sensed a realisation that he needed to think again about how he might achieve his overriding ambition, to win a Grand Slam tournament.
It remains to be seen whether a left wrist injury played a significant part in Murray's 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 defeat. Although he insisted it had had no effect on the result, he said it had been troubling him for a week. It is understood that a scan showed the wrist was inflamed, though Murray is still planning to play in Britain's Davis Cup tie against Poland in Liverpool next week.
In the longer term the 22-year-old Scot is likely to reassess both his scheduling in the build-up to Grand Slam tournaments and his training, including the work he does between matches. Murray has a ferocious appetite for hard work and John McEnroe believes that may be a problem. There was a lack of zip in his play against Cilic and his body language was downbeat.
McEnroe was concerned at Murray's lack of energy. "He has worked extremely hard on his game, but my concern is that he is over-tennised and over-trained at this point," the four-times US Open champion said. "He has his own routine and needs to be in great shape – no doubt about that. Roger Federer has it worked in terms of what he does on his days off and Murray would be better slacking off because he has done all the work that's needed at this point. You don't need to work that hard between matches."
Murray, who admitted that he had played poorly but could not explain why, often seems to be at his best when returning after a break and it could be significant that his most disappointing results this year were his fourth-round defeats here and at the Australian Open, where he lost to Fernando Verdasco.
On both occasions he had trained hard in Miami and played well in tournaments immediately preceding the Grand Slam event. Before Australia Murray won an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and the Qatar Open in Doha; in the build-up to Flushing Meadows he won in Montreal and reached the semi-finals in Cincinnati in successive Masters tournaments.
He is already changing his schedule before the Australian Open in Melbourne in January, having decide to eschew the riches on offer in the Middle East, where he believes the conditions are too cold to prepare him properly for the southern hemisphere summer.
Missing his grandmother's Christmas lunch is a sacrifice, but he will fly to Australia from his winter training camp in Miami, giving himself at least two weeks to prepare in the heat Down Under. He looks likely to compete in the Hopman Cup in Perth, where he will play singles and mixed doubles with Laura Robson, and in the Sydney tournament in the week before the Australian Open. There are still two Masters tournaments to play this year, in Shanghai and Paris, as well as the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London at the end of November.
"I'll have to see if I take a break or start focusing on the next tournaments as I don't want to burn myself out before the start of next season," Murray said. "Rankings-wise, I got to my highest this year, but the next step is to win a Grand Slam and unfortunately there are no more left. I'll go and work on my game and not worry too much about my results at the end of the year and make sure I'm ready to win a Slam next year."
Murray may consider whether he needs, on occasions, to play more aggressively, but he sees no need for major changes. "My strokes are good and I move well. I have to make sure I play my best tennis when I need to at the Slams. That has been the case this year – apart from this match. I have to keep finding my way back into matches, because I wasn't able to do that this time."
Patrick McEnroe, John's brother and the US Davis Cup captain, described Murray's defeat as "a dismal performance". He added: "In the last two sets he just went away mentally. He has proved everything in other tournaments, but he's yet to prove it on this Grand Slam stage and this kind of poses really more questions than answers."
That is a harsh judgement considering that Murray is No 2 in the world – although Rafael Nadal will reclaim that spot next week – and reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the French Open, bettering his previous best performance at both events.
John Lloyd, Britain's Davis Cup captain, certainly sees no reason for Murray to make wholesale changes. "I said before the Australian Open in January that I believed Andy will win a Grand Slam but that he was still two to three years away from playing his best tennis and there would be no panic if he didn't win this season," he said. "This is just a temporary blip and one he will learn from."
Murray's previous two coaches, Mark Petchey and Brad Gilbert, were in the job for 11 and 16 months respectively. Miles Maclagan started working with Murray 21 months ago. It has clearly been a happy and extremely fruitful relationship, helped by the fact that Murray travels with a large entourage.
What his regular group lacks, however, is someone who has played or coached a singles player other than Murray at the sharp end of Grand Slam tournaments. Alex Corretja, a former French Open finalist, has been an occasional addition to the coaching team. Might Murray ask him to play a more prominent role?
As he prepared to fly home yesterday, however, Murray's mind was on less heady matters. "Once I get home, I'll be fine," he said. "I'll spend time with my dog and do things off the court that make me happy. It's been a long stretch in the States and I'll get refreshed."
Playing the long game: Why Federer is fresh
Andy Murray was playing his 56th singles match of 2009 when he lost to Marin Cilic on Tuesday. Compare that with top seed Roger Federer, who has played one more match but taken part in 13 less sets. The Swiss has also played just one doubles match this year, eight less than Murray.
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