Posted by: Paul | May 31, 2010

Will Andy Murray ever fulfill his potential?

After a string of lacklustre and rain-interrupted performances over the last week, Andy Murray exited the French Open at the hands of Thomas Berdych, the 15th seeded Czech. It was not a huge surprise – Murray’s form this year, disrupted by injuries, has been patchy and he has as yet failed to win a tournament in 2010.

The straight sets defeat came as much from a strong match from Berdych as it did from Murray underperforming again on clay, the surface which he claims to be his favourite and that which he trained on for much of his youth. If he is to be a serious competitor for a clay court slugger like Nadal, there was little evidence of it yesterday. He simply had no response to Berdych’s no-nonsense approach – to serve consistently, attack Murray at the net and in general take the game directly to the British number one. Whether he had an off day or the problem is more deep rooted remains to be seen, but for now he was simply comprehensively outplayed.

Yet again another chance has come and gone. Murray might never have had, or never receive again, a more favourable draw – apart from the initial match against Gasquet (always hard to play against the French at Roland Garros, just like Murray’s home advantage at Wimbledon), he had no seriously tough opponents on paper until the inevitability of meeting Federer in the semi final. I would have expected him to reach this stage, which would have represented an improvement on last year, and he could have come away from the tournament feeling pleased with the incremental advances. Instead, a series of rather subdued matches which failed to excite has led to an exit which puzzles as much as it frustrates. Will Murray ever fulfill his potential?

The weight of expectation on his shoulders is enormous. It’s not a stretch to say that he carries the hopes of the future of British Tennis on his own – none of the other professionals in either the mens or womens game can compete with him – the former world number two (however briefly) is simply on another level. And he’s basically done it mostly off his own back, decamping to Spain in his teens when it was clear the British system could not deliver the support he needed to reach the very top level of the game. He has succeeded in competing with, and on occasion beating, the current elite, and fully deserves his position up there with them. On his day, he is unstoppable.

But in my view he stands at a bit of a crossroads now. For someone of his talent and ambition there is simply no excuse for the manner of his exit – and if he does not show improvement, the way the rankings system works in tennis he will quickly find himself sliding down. If the successes of last year are not at least matched, he’ll be at the wrong end of the top ten before the end of the year. And it’s that which means the seedings drop, the draws get tougher, and he has to work that much harder to maintain his level.

He obviously works hard on his physical strength but, like other British players before him, I believe at the moment he lacks the mental strength to cross that line and take a major title. For his sake, and that of British Tennis, I hope he proves me wrong. And in order to do that, he needs to go back to the drawing board.

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