The Pressure is on Andy Murray to Secure His Legacy After Australian Open Flop

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2017

Andy Murray takes questions from reporters in a post-match interview after his fourth-round loss at the 2017 Australian Open.
Andy Murray takes questions from reporters in a post-match interview after his fourth-round loss at the 2017 Australian Open.PAUL CROCK/Getty Images

Andy Murray left Melbourne, Australia, with his No. 1 ranking intact. However, his legacy took a blow when he lost in the fourth round of the 2017 Australian Open to unseeded Mischa Zverev.

Meanwhile, the final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer rekindled the magic in one of tennis' most storied rivalries. The match served as a reminder of what constitutes legendary.

Right now, Murray, who turns 30 in May, is only a legend in Great Britain. He may play in the Big Four era, but after his Australian Open flop, Murray has serious work to do if he wants to elevate his legacy from "really good" to "all-time great" status.

Despite being linked to Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Murray's place among tennis' top tier is complicated. He's always in the mix but is closer to the gooey middle than the cherry on top.

Andy Murray during a press conference after losing at the 2017 Australian Open.
Andy Murray during a press conference after losing at the 2017 Australian Open.PAUL CROCK/Getty Images

Djokovic, winner of 12 Grand Slams, is in the GOAT conversation.

But where does Murray fit?

His win at Wimbledon in 2016 gave him his third Grand Slam title, separating him from more than 20 players who have won two Slams. Among that group are recently retired stars Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt and somewhat forgotten players like Sergi Bruguera and Stan Smith.

When Murray grabbed the No. 1 ranking at the 2016 ATP World Tour Final, he separated himself from Stan Wawrinka, who is also a winner of three Grand Slams but has never been No. 1.

Murray spoke with the media about wanting to hang on to the top spot: "I'm motivated to stay in that position, but the Majors are what gets me working hard. When I go away in December to train, I'm training with the Australian Open in mind. Because of the best-of-five set matches, they're the ones you have to really put in the extra work for and the extra training for."

If the Slams are his focus, the French Open coming up next won't be easy, especially with Nadal's form. But make no mistake: If Murray is going to leave the game known as more than a British legend, he needs more Grand Slam titles—and in a hurry.

After Federer won the Australian Open, the ATP tour featured an article about "big title" winners. Big titles include Grand Slams, Masters 1000 and ATP Tour Finals. Federer leads all players with 48. Djokovic was second with 47, and Nadal was third with 42.

Murray was a distant sixth with 18.

Those numbers just reinforce Murray's featherweight membership in the Big Four.

Two years ago, FiveThirtyEight's Carl Bialik and Nate Silver characterized the Big Four as the "Big Three-and-a-Half," stating Murray was "an awkward fit in the Big Four."

"It's often seemed like a Big Three and Murray," the piece continued. "Murray's overall record at the biggest tournaments makes him mostly worthy of his Big Four status, but it also establishes how far behind the other members he is."

Last year was Murray's best. Along with winning Wimbledon, he defended his Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro and overtook Djokovic at No. 1.

When Murray assumed the No. 1 ranking, he appeared ready to make a shift in his career. Then, when Djokovic lost in the second round of the Australian Open, it became Murray's tournament to lose, which he did.

How big of a setback was that?

According to Jeremy Bates, a former British No. 1 and commentator for BBC Sport, not much at all. Bates said, "I don't think this has any reflection whatsoever on how the rest of the year goes—they are here to play 18, 19 tournaments I think Andy plays on average per year—he's got all the Slams coming up, he's still world number one and in a very strong position."

Murray will have to hang on to the No. 1 ranking for more than a few weeks for that to make much of a difference in his legacy. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have all held the top spot for more than 100 weeks. If Murray can get anywhere close to that and win at least three more Grand Slams, he moves into Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg territory.

One more Grand Slam gets him in Jim Courier and Guillermo Vilas land, a solid place to be but not befitting someone in the Big Four. However, that sixth Slam gets him on track to legendary status.

Can Murray get there? The pressure is on.