[The Bleacher Report Tennis Community offers year-end assessments of tennis' top players, gauging their status as 2009 draws rapidly to a close. This is the first installment—others to follow in short order.]
Andy Murray ATP World Rank No. 4
There appears to be no middle ground for the surly Scotsman Andy Murray. He is either riding high buoyed by success and self-confidence or he is dog paddling in the inky depths of impatience.
This week the headlines screamed that his girlfriend dumped him because he became addicted to gaming on his PlayStation 3, preferring it to her. Murray, it seems, is in a real funk—“Stuck in Neutral.”
With Juan Martin del Potro nipping at his heels only 245 ATP points behind, Murray hangs onto his No. 4 ranking by a thread—while trailing Novak Djokovic, the third-ranked player by 1,280 points.
His name forever linked with expectation, Murray began 2009 with much hype and promise. The Scot had defeated his nemesis Roger Federer in Shanghai at the year-end ATP 2008 Masters Championships during a hard-fought round-robin contest—bumping the Swiss out of the semifinals.
Murray was so exhausted by his victory that he lost the next day to Nikolay Davydenko.
Early Season Hardcourts
Murray recovered nicely, however, and began the year with impressive victories over both Federer and Rafael Nadal, winning the season opener—an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi. The Scot followed that up with a successful defense of his title in Doha at the Qatar Open, defeating American Andy Roddick in the final.
The press was clamoring, proclaiming Murray as the favorite to take the 2009 Australian Open crown from Novak Djokovic. This offended both Federer and the Serb who said in so many words that Murray lacked the credentials.
They need not have fussed because Murray—whose bad luck at the Australian Open is well documented—ran into a very hot Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round and was promptly excused from the tournament.
Murray inevitably meets the up-and-coming red hot players in his quarter. Call it fate or bad luck—regardless, it follows the Scot Down Under.
The press was not kind. It usually isn't when one of the top players fails to live up to his seeding and his hype. Murray, himself, felt he had been playing well enough to win the Australian Open, but Verdasco got in his way.
Murray proceeded to Rotterdam where he defeated world No. 1 Nadal in the final. But in the process Murray sustained an injury to his right ankle, slowing his progress for several weeks.
In the tournament in Dubai, Murray had to withdraw during a match with Frenchman Richard Gasquet because of a viral infection. This same infection kept Murray from participating in the Davis Cup tie with Ukraine.
It was time for the noble Scot to head west to the United States where for the first time Murray made it all the way to the finals of the Masters Series Tournament at Indian Wells. Unfortunately he lost that match to Nadal.
At the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Murray again made it to the finals, where he defeated Djokovic. The win was Murray’s 11th career win, equaling the mark of fellow Brit Tim Henman.
The men’s tour moved on to clay. Murray lost to Nadal in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters. In Rome, the Scot lost to Juan Monaco, a qualifier from Argentina, in the second round. But because Djokovic failed to defend his title in Rome, Murray became the No. 3 player in the world, leaping over the Serb in mid-May.
Having his first truly decent season on clay was a great boon for the Scot who made it to the quarterfinals in Madrid before losing to del Potro. Murray enjoyed his best ever result at the French Open, making it to the quarterfinals, where he lost to Fernando Gonzalez.
As the tour moved to grass, Murray accomplished the unimaginable. He captured the Queen’s Club, where defending champion Nadal withdrew before the tournament began. The Scot became the first British winner since 1938, and it was Murray’s first tournament win in Britain.
The Scot defeated James Blake in the Queen’s Club final and ushered in an crescendo of expectation for the upcoming Wimbledon Championship.
When Nadal also withdrew from Wimbledon, Murray became the No. 2 seed. Murray achieved many firsts at this tournament—beyond his seeding. His match with Stanislav Wawrinka became the first played under Centre Court’s new closed roof as well as the latest concluding match ever played on Centre Court, ending at 22.39 BST.
Murray lost to Andy Roddick in the semifinals, making it the furthest the Scot had ever progressed at Wimbledon. But, once again, Murray did not win a major, and the British sighs deepened with continued disappointment.
American Hardcourt Season
On to the American hardcourt season and Montreal. For Murray it was a new high. When he won the Masters Series Tournament in Canada, Murray assured himself of taking over the No. 2 ranking from Nadal. Murray became the first man since July of 2005 to be ranked in the top two besides Federer or Nadal.
But then the season turned once again at the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, Murray could not hang onto the ranking or advance after being defeated by Marin Cilic in the fourth round. High expectations were dashed once again, and Murray remained “major-less” as the 2009 season closed for the year.
The Indoor Season
Murray’s subsequent wrist injury kept him from participating in the indoor season. Eventually his ranking fell back to fourth in the world.
His return to London to play in the Barclays ATP World Tour Championships was highlighted by great fan support. Although tied with Federer and del Potro in this round-robin group, Murray failed to advance to the semifinal round because his winning percentage was worse. The Argentine edged him out by one game.
Murray left 2009 much as he entered it, with moments of great victories and high expectation followed by moments of unexpected defeat and denial. He began the year ranked No. 4 and ended the year in the same spot—stuck in neutral, with his fans wondering if and when the stolid Scot will capture his first Major.