What next for Andy Murray after mixed 2014?

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It is safe to say that 2014 has not quite gone as Andy Murray had hoped. Despite having, by most players’ standards, an excellent year, it pales in comparison to his two previous seasons, when he managed to secure Grand Slams in both. His results this year picked up as the season went on, as he won three of his last six tournaments to make it to the ATP World Tour Finals, which ultimately ended in disappointment. He even managed to reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros, which, it could be argued, was his finest achievement of the year, given that it is on his least favourite surface.

However, the number of defeats he has suffered against his main rivals in the last year for the Majors is a cause for concern. He faced Novak Djokovic four times in that period, and came unstuck every time. Likewise, Roger Federer had a 100% record over the Scot, with the gulf between them most starkly illustrated by the 6-0, 6-1 drubbing that the Swiss maestro handed out in London on Thursday. Murray was also unable to get the better of Rafael Nadal during the two matches they played, although both encounters went to three sets.

Another worry for Murray has been that the so-called ‘next generation’, comprising Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, and Grigor Dimitrov have bridged the gap with the men’s elite. Indeed all three have managed to defeat Murray this year, the latter doing so in spectacular fashion at Wimbledon. However, Murray’s days at the top are not over just yet, for a number of reasons. Firstly, he was plagued with a back problem towards the end of 2013, forcing him to opt for surgery and drastically cutting short his off-season training camp in Miami. This had a knock-on effect going into the most recent campaign, and meant that it took him a while to get back into his groove.

There is also the issue of the switch of coach. Murray has only been with Amelie Mauresmo for five months, yet already there have been already question marks over her future. It would be prudent to allow Mauresmo a full campaign to really prove her worth, and the off-season will really give her the chance to iron out some of the current issues in Murray’s game. Only at the end of 2015 can we really decide whether she has been a success or not. Previous coach Ivan Lendl had an almost immediate impact on Murray’s game, although it must be said that developing such a strong rapport that early on in a player-coach relationship is unusual.

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The point must also be made that while young starlets like Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov have made notable improvements over the last few years and begun to collect more trophies on the regular circuit, none of them have developed the consistency at Grand Slam level to match Murray. While Dimitrov did beat Murray comfortably at Wimbledon to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final, he failed to reach the quarter-finals in both Paris and New York. Likewise, Raonic reached the last four of a Major for the first time at the All England Club, but failed to reach the quarter-final stage of both the Australian and US Opens. Lastly, Nishikori only made his big break in the Big Apple, where he reached the final, only to succumb to Marin Cilic in straight sets.

The one problem Murray may find most difficult to overcome is rekindling the levels of motivation that he felt pre-Wimbledon 2013. His obsession had always been to win a Grand Slam, which he achieved in New York in 2012. Once he had accomplished that goal, attention inevitably turned to Wimbledon, where many hoped that he would become the first British man in 77 years to lift the trophy. Once murray wimbledonthis achievement had been ticked off, the weight of expectation was therefore a lot lighter.

Even though Murray will undoubtedly still compete in the upper echelons of the men’s game and continue to challenge for Grand Slams, he will struggle to win any more. The depth in the men’s game has improved dramatically with the new crop of young players, and with Marin Cilic and Stanislas Wawrinka picking up their first of tennis’ big prizes last season, the competition is more fierce than ever. Djokovic and Federer (and Nadal when fit) are still producing incredible performances on a consistent basis, and I cannot see Murray closing the gap to those three again, as he did two years ago. He will need to beat two, or possibly three of the current top-10 over five sets to secure another Major, and that looks a tall order, even if you account for an expected improvement next campaign.

 

Alex Bowmer

 

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