Andy Murray survived his opening-round match at the 2014 U.S. Open. But not before causing folks from Flushing Meadows to Edinburgh to ask: What the heck is wrong with Andy?
The two-time Grand Slam winner and questionable member of the Big Four looked sluggish in a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 7-5 win over Robin Haase.
A bandwagon Miami Heat fan, Murray cramped up like LeBron James at the beginning of the third set. He was twisting, hobbling and bobbling all over the court. He told ESPN he had full body cramps: "When it starts to kind of go everywhere, you don't know exactly where it's going to creep up next...When you stretch one muscle, something else then cramps, too."
Cramps may have played a role in Murray's mediocre performance today. However, he's looked tired for a while. Prior to the U.S. Open, Murray's last three tournaments have ended in the quarterfinals.
Murray, ranked No. 9 and seeded No. 8, sometimes seems disinterested during a match. Sure, he turns on flashes of brilliance. But the fire and intensity he possessed during his run up to the 2013 Wimbledon title is gone.
Less than two years removed from his surge into British sports history, Murray is playing pedestrian tennis. Considered the fourth wheel in the Big Four, Murray has looked more like a man struggling to find inspiration.
Earlier this year he split with coach Ivan Lendl. Shortly before heading into Wimbledon, Murray announced that Amelie Mauresmo would be his new coach. He says the partnership will be long-term.
Meanwhile, Murray is only 27. So making any suggestions about how his career might end seems premature. Yet after several months of subpar play, you wonder, have we seen Murray's best tennis?
Could he have invested so much energy and emotional capital into winning that Wimbledon title that he is spent, or worse, content?
Tennis has certainly seen bright stars flame out. Lleyton Hewitt, 33, had two Grand Slam titles by age 24. Ranked No. 41, Hewitt remains on tour. He collects the occasional ATP title and people enjoy watching him. He's still a name.
Younger fans watching him now have no idea how big of a name Hewitt was in the early 2000s. After winning the U.S. Open in 2001, Hewitt won Wimbledon in 2002. He was a finalist in the 2005 Australian Open.
Although the Aussies hadn't endured a title drought as long as the British, they had their homegrown hero in position to become the first native to win the Australian Open in 29 years.
Hewitt lost to a heavy-hitting Russian, Marat Safin, another multi-Slam winner who seemed to underperform much of his career.
Hewitt was ranked No. 1 during that magical run from late 2001 through 2003. He hasn't seen the Top 20 since 2008.
What if Murray is headed for a Hewitt-like existence?
Murray's credentials as a member of the Big Four are suspect. How can someone ranked No. 9 be in the Big Four? Yes, he has two Slams. But the others in the Big Four have 7, 14 and 17.
Murray has just one more Slam than Stan Wawrinka, the guy ranked No. 4 behind Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
If Wawrinka wins this U.S. Open, Murray's Big Four card just might get revoked.
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