What Andy Murray's Loss to Roger Federer Means for French Open

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 06:  Andy Murray of Great Britain hits a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 6, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Andy Murray was looking to get the major-tournament season started on a high note, while also moving one step closer to the career grand slam with a triumph in the Australian Open.

Instead, he's been eliminated by Roger Federer at the quarterfinal stage of the competition. The tournament's official Twitter feed sent along word of Murray's exit:

Murray hoped to build off recent deep runs at the season's first major, including three appearances in the final over the past four years.

However, he wasn't even able to reach the penultimate stage on this occasion as an in-form Federer proved he still has gas left in the tank in pursuit of an 18th Grand Slam title.

It's the first time since 2009 that Murray was eliminated from the event before the semifinals. His recent return from a back injury was always likely to leave him short of top form, although it was Federer's class that ultimately proved decisive in Melbourne:

The good news for Murray is that the French Open, which is the major where he's enjoyed the least success throughout his career, is still more than four months away.

His biggest task between now and his opening match at Roland Garros is getting back to full strength with his usual match fitness.

He wasn't at that level leading up to the Australian Open. As a result, the Scot told Paul Newman of The Independent that he had no idea what to expect:

It's tough to gauge. The way I was playing for half the match against Mayer I would be very happy with, but being able to maintain that for five sets is tricky. Having a day off between matches would help me and also I'm going to get fitter by playing matches, so there's a possibility that if I can get through a couple of rounds I'll start to feel better as the tournament goes on. My body will start to feel better.

But in terms of expectations I have no idea, to be honest. I wouldn't like to say whether I'd be happy reaching the second week, or winning it, or whatever. I'll have to see how the next 10 days or so go. You can get a lot done in that time.

Assuming all goes according to plan in the coming months, the British sensation should be far more confident about his chances heading into the French Open.

Murray is a player who relies on elite fitness and defensive ability to win matches, even though more aggressive play has helped him reach a higher level. Without those key factors, he isn't as potent—especially on a major stage.

As long as he doesn't have any injury setbacks, the Australian Open loss shouldn't have any lingering effects on Murray. In fact, he will likely see it as a positive that he reached the quarterfinals upon his return.

Murray is still one of the best players in the world and a strong contender to win one of the remaining Grand Slam events this year.

Doing it at the French Open would be huge for the Scot, who's never reached the final on the clay courts of Roland Garros. Even a deep run that helps him build momentum toward Wimbledon and the U.S. Open would be an acceptable result after his return in Australia.

Once Murray is back to full fitness, the results will return to what fans have come to expect from him in recent years. The Aussie Open was a positive first step.