1. Like it or lump it, Roger Federer is old
The start of this month saw the Swiss legend turn 30 and whilst that’s a good milestone to feature in a TV show about not really being able to settle down despite your age and feeling slightly isolated from mainstream society, it’s not such good news when it comes to tennis. You’ve to go back 35 Grand Slam events to Pete Sampras winning the US Open in 2002 for the last time a player above the age of 30 won a Slam and although Federer is clearly in the same pantheon of both talent and hairiness to at least match the achievement, it’s going to be tough – especially as it’s much more competitive this era.
Judging the Fed Express by the standards applied to mere mortals is a dangerous past-time, but at some point the effects of age will outweigh his breath-taking natural ability – that’s as sadly inevitable as Nadal doing that lame ‘biting the trophy schtick’ he does every time he wins something. He may still have enough about him to grab another Slam or two before hanging up his racket and devoting all his time to tax avoidance, but this season his win percentage has dipped to levels not seen since everyone still thought his Wimbledon win was a flash in the pan so time is running out. It’s good news for Murray because although he’s capable of trouncing Old Man Fed in the regular tour events, beating him in the Slams is proving more difficult than growing a decent beard for the Scot. Federer does seem capable of moving up to another gear when it comes to the majors, but at some point, that gear won’t be there and Murray will finally get the better of him on the big stage.
2. It’s not in Britain
The weather. The pressure. The threat of getting drooled on by Sue Barker. Wimbledon is his ‘home’ tournament, but the only way it’s possible to feel less comfortable at home is if your Dad was Josef Fritzl and he was insisting you check out that job he’s been working on in the basement. In the build-up to the fortnight in SW19, being Andy Murray must be a pain in the arse. The media have put stage 1 of Operation Build Him Up To Knock Him Down into full swing and he’s staring into a two week period in which anything other than the Wimbledon title and being the living reincarnation of Fred Perry counts as a failure. To make matters worse he has to deal with the weight of expectation that comes from bandwagon jumpers who pay attention to tennis once a year heaping their own frustrated dreams on him. Plus they’re generally sauced up on a cocktail of Pimms, anti-depressants and strawberries and cream. Being the only Briton at Wimbledon who’s not staff or spectator after day 1 doesn’t help either.
Murray has spoken fondly of playing in New York several times before. Maybe it’s the memories of his win in the boys’ singles in 2004 or maybe he just likes the wide variety of strip clubs on offer, but for whatever reason, he likes the place. It’s the kind of big city environment in which his grumpy variety of arrogance blends in perfectly with the locals and he can go about his business with much greater freedom than London. To some it may seem like a trifling difference and a ready-made excuse, but Murray still travels everywhere with his mum so we’re guessing mentally, he’s not exactly teak tough. Anything that he has in his favour can only help his cause.
3. Novak Djokovic is in pain
Hmmm – maybe winning all those games wasn’t such a good idea, was it now, Novak? Losing in the first round is rarely part of the plan for any tennis player, but looking back, a shock defeat and a week or two of kicking back and relaxing doesn’t sound so bad. Ditching wheat from his diet has worked wonders for the Serb and whilst we’re far too cynical to believe that’s the only reason for his sudden improvement in form, the drug-testers seem happy enough and with all their years of peering into cups of pee, who are we to argue?
Nole has been the player of the year to date thanks to his remarkable winning sequence in the early part of the year and his maiden Wimbledon title, but as the season wears on, maybe he’s paying the price for those exertions. With the Shreddies out of his system, he has been racking up title after title, but there comes a point where his body can’t cope. A severely damaged
ego shoulder saw him pull out of the Cincinnati Masters Final at the weekend and although he’ll probably take his chance by turning up at Flushing Meadows, you’d have to wonder in what condition he’ll arrive at the start line.
Again, Murray is more than capable of beating his rival from the junior ranks in the daily grind of regular tour events, but the ease with which he was dispatched in the final of the Australian Open suggests he’s got some catching up to do when it comes to the majors. If Djokovic is carrying an injury, it doesn’t hurt Murray’s chances one little bit.
4. Rafa Nadal probably should have finished his season in July
He chases down every ball, never gives up and even his water bottle routine looks like it takes some amount of effort. For opponents, it’s often like playing against a wall. A wall that constantly needs to fish underwear out of it’s crack. Whilst others see a shot and think ‘oh well, there’s always the next point’, Rafa Nadal seems to take every single point conceded as an affront to his ability and goes to extraordinary lengths to battle for points that any right thinking player would give up on. His rise from clay court specialist to all round megastar has required a huge amount of effort, so it’s no real surprise that every now and then his body breaks down like an overly emotional spinster.
Rarely a tournament goes by without Rafa having some sort of injury scare and after a niggle-riddled run to the final of Wimbledon, he took an extended break. There’s nothing wrong with that, but since his return he’s looked less than stellar, losing to world number 41, Ivan Dodig in Montreal before slipping to defeat to Mardy Fish in Cincinnati. Of course, it’s going to take him a little while to play his way back into form and those two results don’t necessarily make him an also-ran in New York, but he needs a sudden and mysterious improvement to be performing at the same level as some of the leading contenders. Maybe he should look at his wheat intake.
5. He’s coming into some form and by extension he’s less moany
Andy Murray has always been a fan of getting the excuses in early. If he has a niggle/tweak/sniffle in the build-up to a Grand Slam, you’ll have heard about it – several times. It’s something of a medical marvel, but these ailments all seem to flare up mainly during or directly after a defeat – just in time for the post-match press conference. When all is right with his game and he’s amassing the less significant silverware, he sounds like the Six Million Dollar Man and it’s only a matter of time before his bionic body sees him become the dominant force in tennis. When he’s struggling, the excuses flow like crowds leaving centre court when Cliff Richard picks up the microphone.
The start of his hard court season got off to a bad start with defeat to Kevin Anderson in Montreal, but he bounced back by winning in Cincinnati. Now unfortunately Andy collects almost as many Masters trophies as he does girlfriends that are out of his league and it doesn’t always translate into Grand Slam success, but the manner in which he won the event was heartening. He didn’t drop a set en route to victory and took on some useful players in the process. In view of his fiercely competitive nature, he’ll take a lot from that victory. He’s not exactly going to be cracking knock-knock jokes or even smiling, but a happy Murray has a much better chance of finally getting the Grand Slam monkey off his back.
What do you think? Is it’s Andy’s time or is it set to be a huge disappointment the like of which we haven’t seen since … em … July?
Comments and observations in the comments section.