Andy Murray's dreams of winning Wimbledon two years in a row were dashed on Wednesday, as the reigning men's champion lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals by a score of 6-1, 7-6, 6-2.
This continues a rather disappointing 2014 campaign for one of tennis' biggest stars. Murray has failed to win a singles title or live up to the hype after his Wimbledon breakthrough last year. With three of four 2014 Grand Slam events in the books, now is the time for Murray to gear up for the hard-court season and the U.S. Open.
A rather quick turnaround occurs between the French Open—where Murray reached the semifinals—and Wimbledon. Thus, the All England Club's unique grass surface and swift transition are partially to blame for Murray's defeat.
But after recovering from a back injury, Murray hasn't continued his progress as a player amid a modern era featuring all-time greats in Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Losing at the AEGON Championships in the third round to Radek Stepanek heightened concerns about Murray's form entering Wimbledon. Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated provided context at an event where Murray was also defending his title:
Andy Murray loses 76 62 to Radek Stepanek at Queen’s. First loss for Murray on grass since 2012. Had 8 set points in the 1st. #atp— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) June 12, 2014
Murray addressed the unexpected upset in a column, via BBC.com:
It looks like I'll be heading to Wimbledon a little earlier than planned after losing to Radek Stepanek at Queen's. I'd never say it's a blessing in disguise - I don't enjoy losing and I messed up that first set by missing so many set points - but at least I now get the chance to give my body a bit of a break.
Another source of tumult was the decision Murray made to part ways with ex-coach Ivan Lendl and hire two-time women's Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo as his new mentor. This was a landmark move and one that came curiously close to Wimbledon.
When will Andy Murray win another Grand Slam event?
The unique pressure Murray faces as a homeland favorite at Wimbledon on an annual basis is reason enough to excuse him for falling short of the title. Expectations couldn't have been that high for the All England Club this time around. Given how Murray has fared previously, his loss doesn't come as a shock.
He also matched a career-best finish at Roland Garros, suggesting he is indeed rounding back into form and could bounce back in a big way in 2015.
Until then, though, the focus for the Scot must shift to Flushing Meadows in New York for the final major tournament of the season. Murray won the 2012 U.S. Open and made a respectable run to the quarterfinals in his defense of his maiden Slam singles title.
Murray figures to be among the favorites when the U.S. Open commences on Aug. 25, and he has tournaments ahead to gather some momentum. Under the new watch of Mauresmo, there is time for the tandem to gel and get the most out of what has been an otherwise lost season.
It's not as though Murray is a reclamation project. A strong effort in the last Slam will go a long way in forecasting what to expect from him in the future, however.
Regardless of what happens for the rest of the year, it still appears Murray is a ways off from competing with the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and even Stanislas Wawrinka. Murray must elevate his game on the hard courts, use his exceptional fitness and sharpen the duller points of his arsenal to return among the absolute elite in men's tennis.