Maybe I’m the only one, but I was surprised to see the most recent cover of Tennis Magazine. I figured after the Grand Slam season and the drastic shift of power over the last few months, Andy Murray’s face would be staring back at me when I opened my mailbox. I assumed there would be a cliché headline like, “Great Scot, He Finally Did It!”, but all I saw were the usual suspects and their trademark expressions: Nadal’s intense scowl that could turn any competitor’s blood cold, Federer and his nice-guy smile who you’d trust to watch your baby, and Djokovic’s cocky smirk, an expression of someone who you wouldn’t want to leave alone with your girlfriend. When I read the featured article, there wasn’t one mention of the guy who just won two of the five biggest tennis events of 2012–the gold medal at the Olympics and the US Open–both tournaments won the previous year by “Trivalry” members. Not to mention that it was his first Grand Slam, and the first for Britain since the 1930s.
Yes, I know that Murray doesn’t fully meet every requirement to a tee (consistency, staying healthy, persistence, and resilience) set by the writers of Tennis Magazine to be considered part of the rivalries, but he certainly has strong points in all four categories. There’s no argument that he’s yet to prove his consistency on the grand stage, but he definitely has been consistent at nipping at the heels of the top three for years now. He reached the finals at the US Open in 2008, the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011, and this year’s Wimbledon. He also briefly attained the number two ranking in 2009, and has won several smaller tournaments along the way, all the while collecting wins against the top players. He has stayed relatively healthy with a few bumps and bruises along the way, which has drawn some criticism, but nothing long-term that’s kept him out of competition for any prolonged period of time. When it comes persistence and resilience, he certainly has had some large obstacles in the shape of a Spaniard, a Serb, and a Swiss standing in his way, but he has continued to get up after each fall to fight on. I think Jim McLennan, editor of TennisOne, said it well about Murray’s game with, “I believe Murray is the smartest player on the tour, who plays with the absolute best awareness of offensive, defensive, and neutralizing tactics. He is not as dangerous as Nadal, he is not as gifted as Federer, but he beats these guys at their own game by totally knowing the court.”
Since the US Open, Andy Murray had a small fumble when he lost to Canada’s Milos Raonic in the semi-finals of the Japan Open. But as Murray stated after the match, “There was always going to be a bit of residue from the last few months.” He bounced right back to beat Federer this past weekend in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Open, but then lost to Djokovic in the finals even though Murray had five match points against him.
I can’t help thinking that the absence of Rafael Nadal has cast a shadow on Murray’s most recent breakthrough. Even though he beat Federer for the gold medal (his current head-to-head against Federer is 10-8) and Djokovic for his first Grand Slam title at the US Open (his current head-to-head against Djokovic is 7-9), I have a feeling that there are those out there thinking that that may not have happened if Nadal was there playing at his best. Maybe that’s true, after all, his record against Nadal is 5-13, only winning two of those matches in majors (2008 US Open and the 2010 Australian Open). Only Nadal’s much-anticipated return will put that debate to rest.
Nadal, the most talked about person in tennis right now, is speculated to return for the season-ending Barclays ATP Men’s Finals at the O2 Arena in East London in early November. And if not there, Nadal will most likely be a part of Alex Corretja’s Spanish squad to defend their Davis Cup crown against the Czech Republic later that month. Should he “rush” his recovery to come back before the season ends? I certainly think he’ll need some matches under his belt before heading to Melbourne, but if it will hinder his 2013 season, then he should rest and wait until the new year. As Nadal said about his return happening before the end of 2012, “Impossible no, but difficult, yes.” No doubt, his return will make the men’s tour feel more complete, and give Andy Murray a chance to prove he’s up there with all of the best.
It may sound like I’m Andy Murray’s number one fan. I admit I wasn’t in the recent past, but maybe it was the soft touch in me that did a complete 180 after hearing his Wimbledon speech, and especially his current results the last few months. I just think it’s extremely exciting for men’s tennis that four different players have won each of the four Grand Slams this past year, which hasn’t happened since 2003. The “quadvalry” will make the 2013 season a must-see, which in general will help the growth of tennis. As Federer said about Murray after winning his seventh Wimbledon title, “His (Murray’s) next nine months are going to be extremely interesting to follow.” I certainly agree with that.