World No. 3 Andy Murray has pushed himself into the class of tennis' elite
Ever since Novak Djokovic joined Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to complete the vaunted "Big Three" who dominate modern tennis, the road to a Grand Slam championship has been steep for the less spectacular superstars. In fact, ever since Djokovic won the 2008 Australian Open, his first Grand Slam championship, only one player outside of that most exclusive club had broken through and bested all of their peers in a tournament: Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in the 2009 US Open.
At least until Andy Murray came along.
The 25-year-old Murray pushed himself ahead of the rest of the pack during the second half of the 2012 season, wherein he reached the Wimbledon final, won the Olympic gold medal for Men's Singles and claimed his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.
Though he is coming off a heart wrenching four-set loss to Djokovic in the 2013 Australian Open final, Murray has shown enough to be mentioned in the same breath Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Against Djokovic, the World No. 1, Murray proved yet again to be very much deserving of an exaltation to elite status in the world of professional tennis.
During the first set, Murray showed little sign of fatigue after outlasting World No. 2 Federer in a trying, four-hour long semifinal match. He and Djokovic matched each other at every turn, before Murray throttled Djokovic in the tiebreaker, winning it 7-2.
Murray looked like he had a good shot to go on and avenge his losses to Djokovic in the 2011 and 2012 Australian Opens. He showed more aggressive play and forced Djokovic into some pretty bad shots. He also played great defense and outlasted Djokovic in many rallies, while collecting only 12 unforced errors to Djokovic's 25.
Early in the second set, the momentum all seemed to be on Murray's side. After holding serve, Murray nearly broke Djokovic's first serve, by backing his opponent into a 0-40 hole to begin the game. Unfortunately for Murray, he was not able to close the deal, and Djokovic clawed his way back to win the game, and eventually the set as well.
The set went to a tiebreaker, during which Murray double faulted when tied 2-2, and Djokovic never looked back. He won the tiebreaker 7-3, and dominated the final two sets, winning 6-3 and 6-2.
"You know, at this level it can come down to just a few points here or there, " said a frustrated Murray after the match, "My biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set—didn't quite get it. When Novak had his chance at the end of the third, he got his."
Murray seemed notably frustrated after the aforementioned double fault, and one must wonder whether that played a factor in his collapse during the ensuing parts of the match. Murray has been criticized for losing his composure at crucial times. Before that error, however, Murray showed more confidence than he had in previous years, and looked superior to Djokovic in long spurts.
Murray has shown the consistency that is reserved for the top players in the world. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, only Djokovic has made it to more Grand Slam semifinals than Murray.
In fact, the only semifinals that Murray missed out on was the 2012 French Open, during which an injury-plagued Murray would lose to David Ferrer. Other than that lone earlier round loss, Murray has not gone down in a Grand Slam match to anyone other than Nadal, Federer or Djokovic, which shows that it takes absolutely masterful tennis to oust him in a big spot.
In addition to being so consistent, he has proven that there is one tournament in which he is most formidable, and that is the Australian Open. Sure, he has not yet won that tournament, but he has been remarkably excellent there, advancing to three of the past four finals, and in the other losing in an epic four hour and fifty minute showdown with Djokovic. While he is not the best in that tournament right now (that honor clearly belongs to Djokovic), he has pushed himself away from the rest of the pack in Australia.
If he is able to keep healthy, Murray should have a third consecutive fantastic season. He has shown that he can knock on the door at any Grand Slam, and now that he finally broke through and won one, there's every indication that he will be hoisting multiple first place trophies before it's all said and done.