Australian Open 2012: Why It Is Finally Andy Murray's Time to Shine
At the age of 24, Andy Murray holds career statistics that would make most other players' eyes water. He has beaten the top three players in the world on numerous occasions, has reached three Grand Slam finals, amassed eight Masters 1000 titles and has been as high as No. 2 in the world. And yet, no one, it seems, will be truly impressed until he wins a Grand Slam title—something that he is trying to put right this week at the Australian Open.
The Scot has always had his critics, and they have always had their ammunition, but for now they are silent as Murray hits form that is getting his fans excited. The critics have been replaced by experts who believe that this will be Murray's tournament, that finally Murray will be the last man standing on the final Sunday of a Grand Slam tournament.
Here are five reasons why, I believe, Andy Murray's time is now.
The Lendl Factor
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A lot of the excitement has been caused by the appointment of eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl as Murray's new coach.
There had always been some doubt as to whether Murray's previous coaches were of the calibre to take him right to the top of the men's game. Coaches such as Mark Petchey, Brad Gilbert, Alex Corretja and Miles Maclagan are all considered world-class teachers of the game, but none of them ever reached the playing standard that Lendl achieved.
Former Grand Slam finalist and ex-British Davis Cup captain Jeremy Bates believes that Lendl has provided a "breath of fresh air."
"They get on very well. It's all coming together for Murray," said Bates. "Murray was smiling on court and he's clearly enjoying it."
The two have been reported to be getting on well, sharing jokes off-court and having a mutual respect on it.
"I think because it's him you're kind of like a sponge. You're absorbing a lot of different information," said Murray.
"You're asking a lot of questions and you're getting a lot of good answers, interesting ones," added the Scot.
The pair have only been working together for a few weeks but many believe that the combination could have an immediate effect. They get along well, they respect each other and Lendl may be able to give Murray the additional support he needs to make the jump to Grand Slam winner.
The Murray First Serve
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With temperatures beginning to soar in Melbourne, a high percentage of effective first serves will be key to winning matches quickly and conserving energy.
Murray's first and second serves are becoming weapons in their own right. So far in the tournament, his first-serve percentage has been high—something the 24-year-old has been known to struggle with in the past. It has also allowed him to play closer to the baseline during points—a tactic which has allowed him to be more aggressive and control the majority of the points so far in the tournament.
Ivan Lendl believes that Murray's first serve is an "underestimated" shot.
"People don't realise how hard he hits his first serve," said Lendl. "He's winning a lot points on his second serve, and the percentages are quite high."
A lot will depend on the Murray serve and whether he can maintain the variety, pace and percentages going into the final rounds. He will be a very tough player to break if he can.
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Andy Murray's quarterfinal opponent will be Japanese player Kei Nishikori. Nishikori caused a major upset earlier today by defeating the 2008 finalist, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, in five sets.
That result would have come as a pleasant surprise to Murray. Tsonga is a player well-known for his ability to play his top tennis on Australia's Plexicushion courts. The Frenchman usually finds the surface to his liking and has shown in the past that the courts allow him the time he needs to play his power game. A quarterfinal against Nishikori will be a much more welcoming prospect.
Murray goes into the quarterfinal as the clear favourite against Nishikori, a player he defeated in last year's Shanghai Masters event—the only other time the two have met each other in competition.
Nishikori has already played two five-set matches to get to the quarterfinal stage and will most likely be feeling a lot less fresh than Murray come Wednesday.
If Murray comes through the Nishikori encounter, he either faces David Ferrer or world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
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Other than the tough four-set victory over Ryan Sweeting in the first round, Murray has had an easy route through to the quarterfinals.
As his rivals have battled through four rounds of three to five sets in the Australian heat, Murray cruised through his third-round match against Michael Llodra and was off court after 49 minutes when his fourth-round opponent, Mikhail Kukushkin, retired through injury.
"It was hot on the court and it is good for me that I have conserved energy," Murray said after leaving the court following Kukushkin's retirement.
"After the fun match against Llodra, now the half-day against Kukushkin, this could be the break he needs to make all the difference in the second week," said BBC tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend.
A Change of Tactics
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For a long time, Murray has been urged to drop his defensive, counterpunching game plan and replace it with something more attacking and aggressive. Now, it seems, the Glaswegian has finally taken note of this advice.
It would seem that Ivan Lendl's influence stretches far beyond just making Murray feel relaxed and able to enjoy himself. The Scot has made a clear effort to stand closer to the baseline and dictate with powerful and well-placed groundstrokes.
Lendl has said that he was "very much in support" of Murray's new gameplan. It is a tactic that the former Grand Slam champion used in his playing days and one that he will want Murray use as much as possible.
If he can continue to be attacking, and consistent with it, he may be able to trouble the top three more than he has ever done in previous meetings.