Early on Thursday morning on Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City, surrounded by thousands of rowdy fans and countless empty seats, Andy Murray lost to Novak Djokovic in a thrilling quarterfinal at the U.S. Open, 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.
The loss meant that for the first time in five seasons, the two-time major champion failed to make it to the final of one of the four majors. In fact, Murray only made one semi at a major this year, funnily enough at his worst Slam historically, the French Open.
But this loss is far from a reason to panic. In fact, it's just the opposite. Murray showed glimpses of his best tennis in this match, and displayed plenty of signs that he's moving in the right direction.
All of this means that come next year, Murray will be one for the top players to fear at the majors once again.
Patience is a tough thing for a professional athlete (and the fans of said professional athlete) to have, especially in tennis when careers are short and opportunities are fleeting. But Murray and his fans need not be discouraged by his subpar season in 2014.
Bill Dwyre of the LA Times (via Reading Eagle ) wrote about how intense the last couple of years have been for Murray, and how a regrouping year should not be alarming.
He had won the U.S. Open in 2012, beating Djokovic in a rugged five sets. That was a few months after he had beaten Federer in the Olympic gold-medal final. It was the London Olympics. Tennis was held at Wimbledon. How could there be a higher high, other than the Wimbledon title itself, which he took care of the next year? One estimate had nearly 18 million Brits watching that 2013 Wimbledon final on TV.
A letdown after that should not be surprising.
He had back surgery near the end of last year, and you never come back from that as fast as sportswriters and fans project you will.
As Dwyre pointed out, even though 2012-2013 were the most successful years of Murray's career, there's a lot of emotional and physical exhaustion that comes with those highs. That he capped that off that year with back surgery only exacerbated the toll it all took on him.
Additionally, Murray's comeback this season hit a major road bump when Ivan Lendl, his coach of more than two years, parted ways with him in March. Murray joined forces with Amelie Mauresmo, a two-time major champion and former No. 1 on the WTA, right before Wimbledon in June, but coaching transitions are rarely seamless.
With their partnership brand new, Murray had a nice run to the Wimbledon quarters before getting blown off court by Grigor Dimitrov.
This summer during the U.S. Open Series, he lost in the quarters of Toronto to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and in the quarters of Cincinnati to Roger Federer—both the eventual champions of the respective events. In both matches, Murray had notable mental lapses that caused him to lose leads in crucial sets.
But he kept working on his game with Mauresmo and came into New York City motivated, albeit with a ranking that had dropped down to No. 9 and set him up for a quarterfinal clash with the world No. 1.
Before this U.S. Open fortnight began, Murray spoke with Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times about his newfound one-day-at-a-time perspective:
I obviously want to win Grand Slams, but the only way to do that is by working hard and staying fit and healthy. These days, you need to be in good shape. So rather than just focusing so much on the outcome, let’s actually focus on the process of what I need to do to give myself a chance to win it. This week, what am I going to do rather than stressing myself out about trying to win the U.S. Open? Just take each day as it comes. We’re going to practice these specific things today, try to improve them, and then when the tournament comes around, you just get ready for each match, each opponent, and see what happens.
Murray seemed to pick up steam each match in New York, and had an important fourth-round win over Tsonga, his first top-10 victory of the year.
In his quarterfinal match against Djokovic that began late on Wednesday night, Murray unleashed an aggressive forehand and an assertive game plan that showed a confidence in himself and his game that have been missing recently.
He got down early in the first two sets, but was able to fight back and push them both to tiebreakers. He ended up being done in by a stiff back and the best player in the world, but there were some thrilling rallies, stellar defense and fearless shotmaking that signaled that championship form is on its way.
This fall, Murray will have no points to defend at the hard-court events in Europe and Asia. This will give him plenty of opportunities to work out the physical and mental kinks in his game and continue to develop a relationship with his new coach. If he stays healthy, he'll be able to get his ranking back up and restore his winning ways.
That way, by the time the 2015 Australian Open comes along, Murray will be back in full swing and ready to contend for more majors.
The Brit is likely never going to be a player that will dominate on a week-in, week-out basis the way we've seen Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic do in their careers. He's a bit more volatile, and he doesn't seem to be wired for protracted steadiness.
However, Murray is a Grand Slam winner who has many more glory days ahead of him. His feisty loss to Djokovic at the U.S. Open showed that we'll see those days come back sooner rather than later.