The Ingredients of a Champion

Andy FreemanContributor IJanuary 26, 2009

I woke early this morning with an element of dread. Murray vs. Verdasco was worrying me. This match felt like a banana skin and proved to be. As I switched on my radio, Verdasco was streaking ahead in Set Four, and we were heading for a fifth set. I made a mug of tea and listened intently. Here I thought is where we'll see if Murray has the ingredients of being a champion.

Some people just have it. Tiger Woods. Muhammed Ali. Pele. Michael Phelps. All champions. They have the ability to rise above situations, to find a gear that they have no right to have. They keep winning. Champions are not impregnable. Very rarely do champions like Ed Moses come along, who win, and win, and win. But champions regularly rise above circumstances and perform. Roger Federer is such a man in tennis.

Two sets down to Berdych on Sunday, Federer dug deep, he won the big points and came through in five. A match that could have been a deep hole becomes a building block, which I believe will result in the Australian title on Sunday.

Andy Murray is a great tennis player. He's gifted, intelligent, purposeful. He's a winner.  But a champion tennis player? Not yet I fear.  Indeed in the back of my mind, a nagging doubt, is the World No. 4 position that a certain Messrs Henman and Rusedski made it to.  Has Murray found his summit? I hope not. Murray, given his age and talent should win a Grand Slam one day, but right now he wasn't good enough.

Two moments from the 5th set hit me.

Firstly, in game 2, Verdasco's first service game of the 5th set.  At 30-30 Verdasco was wobbling.  If Murray had broken for 2-0 I think his aura of invincibility would have returned.  But 30-30 and Murray lets another painful, paralysing drop shot go ... and predictably loses the point.  Murray's drop shot is his achilles heel, or rather his bad addiction.  It wastes points and it wasted a key game here.

The at 3-2, Murray pushes and pushes and gains 5 deuces and 2 break points.  Verdasco kept holding on but Murray kept pushing.  A break here would have been close to game over.  Yet it seemed on the key points the Spanish giant had just a bit too much.  I listened imagining Federer bashing a forehand down the line or conjuring a break from somewhere.  With Murray it just didn't happen. 

So Australia is over for Murray.  Is there to be a Slam breakthrough for Murray this year.  The pessimist in me says the French and Wimbledon won't work out, but watch Murray in New York this September.  I hope and predict that Murray's breakthrough will happen then.  But by then, I expect Federer to be back at World No.1.