By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
Andy Murray does have what it takes to win a Grand Slam. Roger Federer says so and he’s such a nice guy you get the impression he wouldn’t lie about these things. The Wimbledon final taught us a couple of things. Firstly, Andy (25) clearly has the talent to compete at the highest level – whether it be at the top of the tennis world or in the world of emotional Halle Berry-esque speeches. It’s pretty much all there ability-wise.
Had the Fed Express not been able to step-up to his very best, Murray would now be a worthy Wimbledon champion.
Secondly, his mental approach to the game still needs some work. His emotional outpouring after defeat to Federer worked wonders for softening his reputation for being prickly, but will have sounded alarm bells for others. Although none of Nadal, Djokovic or Federer will ever experience the unique pressure of playing a ‘home’ Grand Slam, it’s hard to imagine them submitting so visibly and unapologetically to emotion.
Beneath the surface, they may be feeling exactly how Murray felt, but for the most part, they remain impassive and stoic, even in defeat.
Murray’s tears were endearing, but it begs the question, does he have the mental strength to win the majors his talent deserves? Is he capable of managing the pressure and still producing the required level of performance? Here’s the Paddy Power Blog analysis at how Andy handled the biggest day of his career to date.
It’s a long walk from inside the bowels of the All England Club out to centre court. As the BBC started their hour long pre-match coverage about 55 minutes too early, they have enough to bring us every step of the journey. Federer looks typically focussed, but Murray seems to be matching him steely facial expression for steely facial expression. As they stop just before going on court, Andy is looking focussed and ready. He starts to jump around. To the untrained eye, it looks like an attempt to stay loose during a few moments of standstill, but Boris Becker is less impressed.
“Roger is looking very cool and collected as always. I can see Andy’s already jumping around a little bit [laughter]. Oh dear,” the ginger German observes, clearly viewing it as a warning sign of nervousness.
Andy starts very well. With Roger hitting with all the accuracy of a Wikipedia biography, he takes the first set. Murray breaks out the standard issue fist-pump a couple of times, firstly for the crucial break of serve 9th game and soon after to celebrate his sealing of the first set deal. He’s walking with his chest puffed out and a spring in his scowl. ‘The 30 year old Roger Federer has one foot in the grave’ according to the BBC and it looks very much like the Scot is about to deliver, several decades after hearing about Fred Perry became boring.
It’s 5-5 in the second set and Federer is serving. At 30-30, the Fed Express bullets an ace down the centre and Murray gets as close to it as the BBC get to impartial commentary when a Brit is playing. ‘Good serve’ Andy is sportingly heard to say as it goes whizzing past his racket. Andrew Castles in the BBC commentary box describes it as ‘sporting acknowledgment’, others may see it as ‘sporting subservience’. The feeling isn’t helped moments later when Andy gets lucky with a net cord that trickles onto Federer’s side of the court. The apology is commonplace, but it’s duration and the accompanying ‘look of depression’ is less encouraging.
Third Set (the rain break)
No one likes rain, particularly when you’ve made the decision to wear a white shorts and t-shirt combo for the day. The umbrellas start going up on Henman Hill/ Murray Mound/Smug Summit and soon after leaving the roof open on centre court doesn’t look like such a good idea. As the rain begins to fall, Andy makes a generic appeal of displeasure, presumably aimed at the umpire or Freyr, norse god of rain. It’s probably the umpire in fairness. It’s nothing major, but it’s the first real sign of that Murray narkiness and that things aren’t going all his way.
Third Set (that monster game)
After the rain delay and a few minutes of pointless speculation as to who will be more suited to the roof being closed, the players are back into the swing of things. The 6th game of the third set was incredible sporting drama as the two players tussled and threw hay-makers over twenty nerve-racking minutes. Murray hits the floor for the first time in the match, but after some grimacing and rubbing, he’s back on his feet. Given his injury troubles and fondness for citing injury as an explanation for underperforming, it’s a worry, After some light hobbling, he’s back to moving freely.
One of the most curious aspects of Murray’s on-court behaviour is his tendency to look at his entourage in the stands at moments when things go wrong. There’s a sense that he’s looking for guidance or inspiration from outside, when the reality is he is the sole agent capable of engineering an improvement. As the tide began to turn irreversibly in Federer’s favour, it was notable how often the Scot made exasperated gestures towards his team. Other than clapping loudly and cheering enthusiastically at the right times, there’s not a lot they can do. Murray seems to do it far more than other players. Is that a sign of weakness or is it fully understandable?
‘I’m getting closer’ Andy charmingly pointed out before requiring a few moments to compose himself. Composure never really arrived, but through his tears and crackling voice, it was obvious how much it meant to him.
Ideally you want your top athletes being a lot less blubbery on the big stage, but a touch of humanity is no bad thing. The question is, is this a glimpse at Murray’s human side or is it evidence of a major weakness that prevents him from matching the top three in the world?
It’s the US Open next up and an immediate chance of redemption. The way in which Murray played at Wimbledon suggests a Grand Slam isn’t far away. It’s all about he handles the expectation. His breakdown wasn’t pleasant to watch, but if it teaches him how to cope with the pressure, maybe it will lead to more than just a hilarious YouTube clip.