As tennis fans awoke there was, not for the first time, an expectation that Andy Murray could finally win his first Grand Slam title. The Australian Open final saw the Scot paired with 2008 champion, Novak Djokovic.
Murray entered proceedings bearing a reputation as a player who froze on the biggest stage, in his previous two major finals he did not win a set, and today on the court of The Rod Laver Arena he reinforced this reputation with a listless performance in his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 thrashing at the hands of the Serbian star.
Djokovic came into the final inspired by defeating Rodger Federer in the semi finals. The third seed played exceptionally well in his run to the final, dropping just one set, and in the two and a half hours long final he outplayed Murray in every facet of the game. He served considerably better than Murray, returned the Scot’s thunderous serves with interest and hit stinging ground strokes from the baseline. It was the kind of all-court dominance that very few players show.
The most telling statistic of Djokovic’s dominance was that the champion had the opportunity to break Murray’s serve on 18 occasions, this compared with the fifth seed’s paltry four break points.
Riding the crest of a wave of confidence, there was no comparison between the pair. Djokovic can now look forward to what promises to be a stellar 2011, while his opponent faces the daunting task of dissecting what went wrong. Djokovic has the game to win on all surfaces and as a semi finalist or finalist at each of the majors he should be a contender throughout the year.
Pre tournament favourites Federer and Rafa Nadal were both undermined by their failings this last week. Federer, arguably for the first time in nine years, lacked the confidence to attack Djokovic in their semi final matchup. Nadal on the other hand was once more undermined by his body, with a thigh injury halting his quest to hold all four major titles. The Spaniard is still the number one, and is certain to add to his haul of nine major titles, but if Djokovic can continue to play with the verve and confidence he has displayed “down under” he will surely be a huge test for anyone that he plays.
While Djokovic will, deservedly, be praised for his dominant victory the focus of much attention will once more be firmly on Murray. The quest for Britain’s first major winner since Fred Perry will continue for at least another three months, and with that Murray will face a barrage of questions from the British press and most will centre on his on court persona.
When Djokovic broke Murray’s serve in the first set, to go 5-4 ahead, the Scot instantly look like a beaten man. This carried over to the second set with the Serb opening a commanding early lead. There is a growing feeling that Murray lets his negative emotions rise to the surface too easily and it feeds the confidence of his opponent.
Murray has consistently shown that he has the ability to win Grand Slam titles; there is a valid reason that he has reached three finals at this level. Taking the next step and winning one is not beyond him, but a crushing defeat to a player that he knows so well will do little to give Murray heart in the coming weeks.
With a player as talented as Murray it is clear that something is holding him back from reaching the heights of potential. One area that needs to be assessed by Murray is coaching and team of people that he has in his inner circle at competitions. For the last eight months Alex Corretja has been a part time coach to Murray, with an agreement in place that after the Australian Open the Spaniard would take on a full time role in “Camp Murray.”
Corretja will be the fifth coach employed by Murray since turning professional in 2005. A turnover of almost one coach a year is unacceptable and leaves little doubt that the professional entourage is clearly an issue for the Scot. Murray has repeatedly said throughout the tournament that he has been in touch with his coach through the internet and on the phone.
With the manner of his defeat, and his inability to move on from mistakes, there is little doubt that having his coach courtside would have been beneficial to Murray. He has reached a point where he needs to reassess what is important. He has said that he likes his entourage to be of people his own age so that he can relax with them and be comfortable. This clearly has not helped him win the biggest prizes in the game; a change of tact is now needed if he is to reach the top of the game.
Djokovic has had similar problems but overcame them. After winning his maiden title he clearly struggled to deal with how to win again. His successes over the last sixth months-runner up to Nadal in the US Open, Davis Cup success for Serbia and now a second major title-have shown that a change of tact can do wonders, if the player focuses on the right elements. Murray has now reached a point where he needs to win majors. Tennis is a young man’s game and Murray could easily see himself overtaken by the next generation, even at 23 years of age.