November 14, 2015
Let’s face it, Andy Murray needs the World Tour Finals like a hole in the head. Deep down, he probably won’t be thinking he can win in London, because he hardly ever beats Novak Djokovic these days.
In fact he has won just one of their last eleven encounters. And yet Murray must play the event, even though it might ruin his very achievable dream of Davis Cup glory.
Should Murray reach the final at the O2 arena next Sunday, he will get just four days’ rest before the Davis Cup final begins the following Friday in Belgium.
And although his brother Jamie will play a big part in that one, we all know that a first Davis Cup for GB since 1936 depends on Andy being fresh and fit for a gruelling few days against the Belgians.
Murray has stated quite clearly in the run-up to the World Tour Finals that he wants to go all the way and hopes to be there come crunch time. He probably felt he had to say that, because there had been some speculation over how much he would or should put into the event.
And let’s be clear, there is no suggestion here that Andy will deliberately ease off at the O2 in order to protect his Davis Cup ambitions.
But what kind of place can Andy be in psychologically and emotionally right now? What will his subconscious be telling him about the prospect of another energy-sapping contest against Djokovic, the best player in the world, the man who routinely beats Murray with ease, Montreal being the only recent exception?
How hard will Murray’s mind be driving his body, with such a dubious reward on offer further down the line, one that might see him arrive in Belgium with inadequate time to recharge the batteries and let his back adjust to clay once more?
Let’s examine the groups for the World Tour Finals. Murray is in a group along with Stan Wawrinka, Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer. If he finishes the round-robbin matches in the top two, he goes through to the semi-finals. That’s when he must meet someone from the other group, where Djokovic and Roger Federer are placed with Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori.
If Murray sees off his rivals he is likely to have to play Federer and then, if he prevails, Djokovic next weekend. Just what he doesn’t want as a Davis Cup build-up. If he doesn’t top his group but still goes through then Djokovic will be his more likely semi-final opponent. Defeat to either player would at least give him more crucial rest time and one less match.
But what is really best for Murray and his career? He has won Wimbledon ,the US Open and the Olympics. He would dearly love to add the Davis Cup to that list. So if he were to be truly objective about his O2 adventure, Murray would have to agree that to lose to Wawrinka and Nadal – and there is no shame in that – would help him. To finish his World Tour Finals campaign early would be in his best interests.
However, placed in the subjective atmosphere of the O2 in front of British fans, and given his competitive nature, it is easy to see how Murray will get sucked into the kind of scraps he really doesn’t need with the Davis Cup just around the corner.
Once he steps onto the World Tour Finals merry-go-round, he is going to find it very hard to get off, until he has completely exhausted himself before one of the biggest events of his life. And despite all that effort from Murray, the form book tells us that Djokovic will surely still finish triumphant.
What should British fans really want when they watch Murray play Wawrinka and Nadal and Ferrer? It depends on your priorities. If the Davis Cup doesn’t matter to supporters, then they will be urging Andy on to victory in London.
But if the Davis Cup is everything, and British fans want to maximise their chances of seeing an emotional Murray lift that trophy and make more history, they might have to think the unthinkable – and hope their man loses in London.
Of course, the dream scenario for the Brits is that Murray wins the World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup. It would require super-human stamina. Is Andy super-human or a mere mortal with back-ache? Is he a sporting romantic or a realist? It’s so hard to be both this November, if your name is Andy Murray.
That’s why he is effectively caught between a rock and a hard place.