Andy Murray is not one of the Big Three with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He’s a lone wolf, sprinting ahead of the rest of the ATP pack but trailing the legendary triumvirate. Whatever else is said about Murray, he is a star because he has maximized his efforts and thrown himself into the fray time and again.
Take the past week of Davis Cup action as he led his band of noble castoffs to a remarkable win over deeper France. There was the Scot, winning two singles matches and teaming up with brother Jamie for a huge doubles win. Was it just Murray’s talent?
In a word, it was toughness.
Whatever tennis fans say about Murray’s legacy, his dogged efforts through the years have long since dismissed regret and outworked any semblance of apathy. Right now, while other stars rest, Murray is willing to add two physically and emotionally exhausting weeks of tennis (July and September) to sandwich the three big tournaments of the U.S. Open Series (Montreal, Cincinnati, New York).
How is Murray’s willingness to compete different than other talented stars?
The Rise and the Frustrations
Murray rose to more tennis acclaim in summer 2006 when he defeated the mighty Federer at Cincinnati. Expectations were high, and the pressure would have ruined plenty of other young, talented players. (Richard Gasquet was equally or more touted than Murray in summer 2006. While Wimbledon 2015 was a reminder of Gasquet’s talent, he has clearly not been as feisty or successful as Murray.)
Murray had to build his sturdy foundation while titans Federer and Nadal dueled for world supremacy. He took some beatings from them when he did try to move near the top, losing three major finals from 2008 to 2011, all in straight sets.
It must have been particularly hard to see Djokovic pound him at the 2011 Australian Open for his epic breakthrough to the top of the tennis world. It’s like watching your twin brother suddenly become the big man on campus while you’re pining away in relative anonymity in the gym. Occasionally someone might glance at you to say, “Why can’t you be like your brother?”
Without his work ethic, Murray’s career could have been cast along the lines of the David Nalbandian mold—talented strokes and championship capability but selectively committed. Nalbandian eventually settled for an underachieving career.
Murray has incredible resilience to keep falling short and to keep trying one more time for the brass ring. By summer 2012, he had lost another major (Wimbledon to Federer), and it would have been easy to believe that it was never going to happen.
He won the 2012 U.S. Open first and foremost because he never settled for also-ran status. It doesn’t mean that he did not have to overcome doubts or great barriers in the superior talents of the Big Three, but he kept plugging away until it all came together. By Wimbledon 2013, he had validated all of the hard work, pushed aside the naysayers and basked in the fruits of two majors.
At the heart of his greatest success, he was unafraid to play more tennis, even while fighting through back pains and frustrating also-ran awards.
Always Another Comeback
In early 2014, Murray was desperately trying to regain his form. He was slow to bounce back after back surgery and rehabilitation. He was destroyed at Melbourne, in the quarterfinals, by a revitalized Federer, and he had to overcome the departure of coach Ivan Lendl.
Add to that the incessant demands of a champion to remain hungry, to not lose his edge after achieving his greatest dreams. We had even questioned if Murray would have the desire to compete as he once had.
The doubts have been answered.
He continues to prove his toughness in spite of a two-year (eight matches) losing streak to Djokovic. He invested added belief in new coaches Amelie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman while cutting ties with assistant coach and friend Dani Vallverdu and physical trainer Jez Green. He continues to play tough matches and rebound after tough defeats, like the 2015 Australian Open finals and semifinals showings at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Now here he is gamely charging ahead for Great Britain, willing to lead his teammates, play a crucial doubles match and bring a presence to British Davis Cup success. Really, he’s given Great Britain tennis its modern identity and a leading man to get behind and rally the troops.
Murray was one of the favorites to win 2015 Wimbledon, but his semifinals showing abruptly crashed into Federer once again. Days later, he was at the Queen’s Club, pouring forth his energies into his country’s Davis Cup hopes.
His workload will continue with the summer hard courts-stretch from early August to late September, once again persisting to win another major while Djokovic reigns with his imposing success.
Right after the U.S. Open, Team Australia will be waiting behind its giant identity and recent drama with its young stars. Behind (or in front of) all of that, old lion Lleyton Hewitt will be gunning to ambush the British, and this could be his most important dying career moment, while for Murray it’s yet another demanding national challenge to juggle.
It all means a lot to Murray, at least if his actions and tennis are his statement. He’s built a legacy of toughness, bouncing back from disappointing losses and putting himself in position to win more enormous matches. He’s a great player, given, but he’s willing to compete time and again.