October 21, 2016
The way things are going, Andy Murray only needs to hold his nerve, fitness and form to become the greatest tennis player in the world.
That’s how quickly the landscape is changing in our beloved sport.
How likely did that look in early June, when it seemed that Novak Djokovic was practically unbeatable in the Slams, and Murray would continue to play the bridesmaid?
But look what’s happening. The true greats just can’t do it at the moment. Roger Federer, who usually had the measure of Murray in the big matches, seems to be feeling his age at last – at least his knee is. One last serious go for Wimbledon next season, then who knows?
Rafa Nadal’s 2016 season is also over, as he takes time out to heal his troublesome wrist and prepare for 2017.
Let’s hope that Roger and Rafa discover some of their former greatness. Let’s pray they can summon their skill and power at least one last time, to do something extraordinary next year.
But we may also have to face a reality that has been nagging away at the back of tennis minds for some time.
Roger and Rafa may never win another Slam. Indeed, 2017 could be the last year we even see them as genuine contenders.
Yes, 2017 could be a very poignant year. And we should simply use it to savour the sight of these two heroes strutting their stuff – and remember what they have given our sport.
They are genuine legends, loved throughout the world, and it shows how fickle sport and time itself can be, to think that they are making way for a man with only three Grand Slam titles to his name.
That’s no disrespect to Andy Murray. To win any Slam is an extraordinary achievement. He has two gold medals in the Olympic singles and a Davis Cup triumph in his cabinet too. The Flying Scot has done brilliantly.
But Roger has 17 Slams, Rafa 14 and Novak 12. Statistically, Murray isn’t in their league – and probably never will be.
That won’t bother Murray now, because he has waited a long time for this chance to prevail.
Djokovic seems to have been suffering psychologically as much as physically of late.So far he hasn’t found a solution.
More tantrums in the Shanghai Masters semi-finals against Roberto Bautista Agut, a man fairly comfortably beaten by Murray in the Shanghai final.
Agut summed the situation up pretty well. ‘Andy is doing everything to get Novak. I can see it in his eyes. He’s really focused on getting number one.’
And it’s true. Much as Murray pays tribute to Djokovic as ‘the best player in the world.’ Much as he plays down his charge towards number one status and tries to point to next year as his best chance. We all know it’s coming, unless there is a very quick change in the Djokovic mindset.
The Brits will be delighted to see Murray climb to the top of the world, if he can maintain his current momentum.
But what does it tell us, other than the obvious, that Mr Murray is a very determined, dedicated and talented tennis player?
It tells us that one tennis era is coming to an end, and another is about to begin. Murray could be the transitional figure.
It should also urge us to enjoy the true greats while we still can, before the new kids on the block really take over.
In a few years time, no one needs to be telling themselves regretfully, ‘I should have made the effort to see Federer and Nadal while I still could.’
After 2017, how many more chances will there be? It’s food for thought. Tennis, of course, will always remain greater than its individual superstars. That doesn’t make us love those superstars any less.
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