With a Grand Slam title and an Olympic gold, Andy Murray has arguably been the most successful among the Big Four this year. Tennis fans are more accustomed to seeing mental breakdowns from the Scot (the crowd cheers when he screams into the towel), but this year marks a mental breakthrough.
Murray’s first Grand Slam victory could precipitate a Murray year. Djokovic struggled for a long time against Federer and Nadal, but once he overcame his mental hang-ups, 2011 was his year. Whether it is a mental boost or Ivan Lendl’s wisdom rubbing off on Murray (he, too, lost his first four Grand Slam finals), it is undeniable that Murray looms as a larger threat than ever going into this year’s Australian Open.
Murray has always been a contender in the Majors, but up until this year the Big Three could count on him to choke when it mattered most. In his first three Grand Slam finals, Murray was defeated in straight sets.
The final at Wimbledon this year stretched to four sets, but still was not the performance needed to win a Major. The final had Murray in tears; he was the closest he had ever been to winning a Grand Slam Title when Federer dropped the first set.
Murray was able to recover and came through weeks later on the same court at the All-England Club to triumph over Federer in the London Olympics. The ability to bounce back after a tough loss was something critics were not certain Murray could accomplish. The Olympic victory proved to skeptics and players alike that Murray had matured and established himself as a force to reckoned with.
The US Open victory was considered by all to be well-deserved and long overdue. Murray took the first two sets, but dropped the following two; this match could be either man’s. Many doubted whether the Scot would be able to pull through or if he could muster the mental strength to win his first five-set final.
Murray’s match-point reaction was an anomaly in the world of legs-collapsing, spread-eagle celebrations. Squatting down in the corner of Center Court, Murray seemed to be in disbelief, covering his mouth with his hands.
Victory is something the US Open champion should get used to. We will soon be reminiscing about the days when his match-point celebrations were so humble and genuine. Young and hungry, Murray’s first taste of victory has only whet his appetite.
Going into the final Grand Slam of the year, the mental edge Murray has is two-fold. First, he has the self-belief necessary to win against the top players. Perhaps Murray got tired of spending year after year ranked No. 4, or maybe the psychological attention he’s been receiving is paying off. (via 10sballs) Whatever the reason, Murray will find that self-belief is one of the key factors in winning big matches against big players.
Second, other players are wary of a Murray 2013. Murray is currently the most dangerous he has ever been in his career. When players reach No. 1, the goal is to stay at the top and play consistently. In order to get to the top, players take more risks and at times adopt a ‘go for broke’ mentality.
Murray has been going for his shots and his return of serve is rivaled only by Djokovic. Not yet No. 1 and on an upward trend is a perfect combination of factors for an ascent to the top. Now that Murray knows he has what it takes to beat the Big Three, he could be unstoppable. We can expect more winning and less screaming into the towel in Murray’s future.