Andy Murray is still a young man. Young enough to use an emoticon without it feeling a little bit creepy. He can probably still get away with having Batman bedsheets if he says he’s doing it ‘ironically’.
The problem is, in the world of tennis, he’s no longer a whippersnapper. It’s getting to that point where we find out if he’s a hero or a Henman. Since bursting onto the scene eight years ago, he’s been treated like the fragile young flower who needed space to grow. His time to bloom is now overdue.
A couple of weeks back, he blew out 25 candles. In tennis that means more than getting increasingly duller presents. It means he’s got roughly three to five more years of being in his prime and a leading contender for Grand Slams. The physicality of modern tennis means by the age of 29 or 30, you’re on the brink of being past it. Agassi, Sampras and Federer being the notable exceptions of an admittedly vague rule. It’s about time the boy delivered.
One worrying trend
Of the last 13 world number ones, all 13 of them had won their maiden Grand Slam event before reaching a quarter of a century. The sequence was broken by Marcello Rios who only ever achieved Grand Slam success on a PlayStation. What’s more worrying is that former world number ones that aren’t really remembered got one in the bag before turning 25. The likes of Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moya and Pat Rafter all got on Grand Slam board prior to the milestone.
Of course, being world number one and having Grand Slam success aren’t interdependent, but anything less will feel like Murray hasn’t delivered on his potential. One title would at least spare his British successors the tedium of countless mentions of ‘Fred Perry‘ and ‘1936’. It’ll take more than that to give the feeling Murray has delivered.
No-one, least of all himself, will count a series of Masters events victories and impressive head to head records against Nadal and Federer in non-Slam meetings as fulfilling his promise. ‘Hey kids, look at this spreadsheet of my performances against Federer in hard court non-Grand Slam tournaments’ isn’t exactly a story likely to enthral the grandkids many years from now.
Paris looks like an unlikely venue for Murray to break his duck. Not only is he playing against the greatest clay courter of all time, Rafael Nadal (25), he’s also up against a man who – despite the lack of French Open titles – may rightly consider himself to be the second best clay courter of all time, Roger Federer (30). His haul of one Roland Garros title would be closer to five were it not for the misfortune of being a contemporary of the Spaniard with OCD and a bazooka of a top-spinning forehand. Novak Djokovic (25) clearly doesn’t fall to pieces on the surface and there are a whole host of dirt-ballers who come to the fore courtesy of the clay.
At 40/1, Murray is more likely to express a love for the English football team than win this French Open. It’s his least successful major and the other members of the Big 4 look in far better shape going into it. Getting knocked out in the Quarter-Final at 10/3 looks a better bet.
It’s a situation Federer implicitly acknowledged this week in his brief summary of the event. “Rafa is the favourite for me,” said the Swiss master, “He’s playing for his seventh title, so no discussion. I know how incredible he can be here in Roland Garros. For me it would be Rafa, Novak, and me in third position.” The lack of even a cursory mention for Murray tells you how little a threat he’s considered.
Andy doesn’t need to feel too disappointed about not winning in Paris, but it’s about time he got his first Grand Slam under his belt.