November 7, 2016
You know that feeling when you’ve reached the top in your chosen profession and you think: what now?
Staying there can be the hardest, partly because you risk losing the intensity of motivation you had during the climb to the summit.
Andy Murray shouldn’t have that problem.
As long as he doesn’t listen to the so-called experts who are mistakenly proclaiming that he has “toppled the big beasts” and should now admire the view from the mountain peak, having secured his greatest ever achievement.
Here’s a statistic that blows a rather large hole in that dangerous mindset. Andy Murray hasn’t toppled a big beast in a Grand Slam for 40 months. FORTY.
Incredible, isn’t it?
If we regard the truly big beasts of tennis as Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, then the last time Andy took down a giant of our sport in a Slam was Wimbledon 2013 – Djokovic.
Novak and Nadal both enjoy 71% success rates against Murray in their head-to-heads. That’s bordering on the ridiculous, given the Brit’s ability. Murray hasn’t beaten Nadal in a Slam since the 2010 Aussie Open.
Meanwhile Murray hasn’t beaten Federer anywhere for almost four years – not since the Aussie Open semi-final in 2013. That is also quite extraordinary, to say the least.
Wait a minute, his biggest fans will say. That’s not Andy’s fault. Maybe Murray would have beaten Federer in the 2016 Wimbledon final if Roger hadn’t been so surprisingly defeated by Milos Raonic, when victory was so nearly in the Swiss superstar’s grasp.
Maybe. Although Federer has usually had the psychological edge when it matters.
Of course, it’s also not Andy’s fault that Novak’s emotional and injury issues have caused a dramatic slump in form, or that Rafa’s once-robust body gives him a world of trouble these days. They haven’t recently stood in his way.
But anyone who has watched the Australian Open final over the last few years knows the back-story. Four defeats to Djokovic in Aussie Open finals in recent years, to go with one to Roger Federer before that miserable record took shape. That’s not great.
On more than one occasion, Novak was there for the taking and Murray somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
That shouldn’t happen any more. Murray knows that he could start as favourite for the Australian Open in 2017. Now is the time to believe in himself like never before.
If all goes according to plan, he should be able to handle the pressure of a final in Melbourne better than ever, despite the added baggage that comes with being World Number One.
Djokovic has lost his aura of invincibility. Should he shave his hair once more to try to bring it back? He seems to have tried everything else.
If Novak stands in Murray’s way at the business end of Aussie Open fortnight, Andy ought to be able to end that embrrassing 40-month drought.
And that has to be part of his motivation now. Because a 40-month lean spell against the Big Beasts of Slams smacks of psychological frailty, as much as it illustrates how dramatically those beasts have fallen away in recent times.
Yes, it’s time to salute Murray in his moment of triumph. That’s what everyone is doing, and rightly so. He has worked so hard and he can now call himself the best in the world.
The statistics do not lie. It’s a wonderful achievement. Everyone in Britain has a right to be proud of their man, he has won worldwide admiration.
But there is no time to stop and admire the view, or listen too long to the exaggerated acclaim. Instead he must use the real story behind his climb to his advantage. Only then can he stay at the top of the food chain and become a big beast himself.
So how does Murray handle the pressure of being World Number One? He needs to stay hungry and hunt some of those big beasts down when it matters.
Forget about the number one. Remember the number forty. That’ll keep his feet firmly on the ground.