January 14, 2014
Make no mistake, if Andy Murray wins the Australian Open, it will be the finest achievement of his career.
You can talk about the first psychological break-through of hard-court glory at Flushing Meadows, his Olympic triumph, or the supreme mental feat of winning Wimbledon. But if you are talking pure gladiatorial tennis against the true greats of the game, one after the other, then the next fortnight offers something even more monumental.
Murray to win in Melbourne? After all that time out due to injury? It sounds crazy, but nothing is unimaginable – not after Rafa Nadal’s comeback last year. And after his blissfully fluent opening match in Melbourne, there are those – including Murray himself – who are daring to dream.
Why is this the ultimate challenge?
Because Murray will probably have to beat the three greatest tennis players of all time if he wants to take his first Australian Open title. Roger Federer in the quarter-final, Rafa Nadal in the semis, Novak Djokovic in the final. That is the nightmare scenario awaiting Andy. Murray hasn’t really played any serious tennis since recovering from his back operation last year. And he has to contend with the 42-degree heat, which has been buckling tram lines and causing people to faint in Melbourne Park.
No wonder people are calling this Mission Impossible. But Andy is up for the fight. He says he is ‘desperate to win’ this tournament after all those previous disappointments in the final – and he isn’t exactly playing down his chances. Murray looked smooth as he swept aside Go Soeda 6-1,6-1,6-3. He is back in the groove and seems to be facing a relatively simple first week. The Australians will close the roof more readily for the less crowded second-week schedule, if the temperatures are still too oppressive for the intensity of the big-match action.
Can Andy succeed in his mission? One factor could have worked in his favour but didn’t: Bernard Tomic could have given Nadal such a gruelling opening round match that some of the Spaniard’s legendary strength might just have been sapped early in the first week. There could even have been a shock on the cards, because Tomic is so unpredictable. But sadly the young Australian maverick was struggling with a groin injury almost from the start of their evening showdown, and had to retire after just one set.
So Nadal marches on unhindered, as do Federer and Djokovic.
Murray must continue to play his way back into world-beating form and prepare to focus on the giants of his sport in Week Two.
Does the Scotsman have the mental strength to prevail? Of course. Anyone who can win Wimbledon with such immense pressure on his shoulders has the right stuff up top. Does he have the talent? Certainly. On his day he can beat anyone. Besides, Federer, if he reaches the quarter-final, isn’t such a frightening prospect these days – though flashes of his old magic are still delighting the crowds.
That still leaves Nadal and Djokovic. To beat both men is a big, big ask. Nadal is the number one seed and the greatest warrior in tennis history. Novak has won the Australian Open for the last three years. And new coach Boris Becker will go all out to sharpen the edge that was missing in Novak’s last two Grand Slam finals.
Logically, you have to conclude that Djokovic will face Nadal in an all-out sporting war for world domination – and what a treat that clash would be for tennis-lovers too.
And yet, and yet…don’t rule Andy out entirely. He has no pressure on his shoulders this time. Few people believe he can do it. That could help him. He will be supremely motivated. With the French Open on clay probably beyond him, the Australian is the one elusive prize Murray wants most.
Probably. But Murray has accepted that mission. And now it is going to be truly enthralling to see how close he comes to pulling off that outrageous dream.
This blog will self-destruct in five seconds.