A while back, the troika referred to as “Big Three”, was a clique of four persons called “Big Four” comprising of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Since 2017, when tennis’ top echelons first got reshuffled, Murray’s trysts with injuries first began, the moniker’s evolution has systemically blotted him out.
This is not fair towards the Scot, whose tenacity shone through not only during his good days but also especially in the last couple of years when he has ostensibly been struggling to get back to his best level. And, speaking of his best, one cannot go past 2016.
Staying true to Murray’s intertwined career trajectory with that of Djokovic, his peak year, too, coincided with the Serbian’s professional pinnacle. Yet, it was a season of halves with Djokovic making the first his own – with the completion of the non-calendar Slam at the French Open – and Murray dominating the second that culminated in a sprint to claim the world no.
1 ranking and then end the season as the no. 1, for the first time. That Olympic year, Murray reached 13 finals, winning nine of these. Of the four finals he lost, three were against Djokovic – at the Australian Open, the Mutua Madrid Open, and the French Open – and the last came against Marin Cilic, at the Cincinnati Open.
These defeats were setbacks. But each of Murray’s nine wins was milestone figures – be it his second Masters crown on clay in Rome, or his second Wimbledon title, or even his second Olympic singles title at the Rio Games to become the first man to clinch two Olympic singles wins.
In 2020, in what was to be another Olympic year, it is worth revisiting the three-time Major champion’s words after his victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the singles final. “Four years is a long time and so many things can change.
Who knows about Tokyo? At 33, I'm not sure I'll be at the same level,” he wryly observed, unknowing of what the future would bring not only for his professional coffers but also for that of the sport, four years on.
But whether unpredicted or not, neither of these highs can compare to the five-tournament winning march Murray embarked on, on the trot across five consecutive events – beginning at the China Open in Beijing and culminating at the World Tour Finals in London – and which spanned 15 straight wins.
Now, as it was then, Murray’s efforts in these events seem incredible. Those latter events pitted him against Djokovic directly for the top ranking and he played as an athlete who was seeking to peer deeper into himself overlooking his dissatisfaction in having to compromise after unfavourable results.
Murray’s narrowed focus and his relentlessness remained in tandem with the intensity of the season’s fast-approaching closure. And, despite all he had achieved in his career up to then that resolute facet of Murray had been hitherto unseen.
Thus, while tennisdom had become used to a player whose game – and mind – started to act up when his tactics did not win him points, Murray’s mind persevered even as his physique was getting weather-beaten.
The latter wear-and-tear redefined Murray’s career the immediately following year and while having done so, perhaps has even prompted the question – at the back of our minds – of whether Murray over-played it in 2016? The answer to this question can never be one-sided: be it a nod or a shake of the head.
But what can never be in doubt that for Murray, for all he has had to let go in the succeeding years, the gains were too significant to have foregone in the first place. And had he not played the way he did, the tennis realm would have been still discussing Murray’s chances as syrupy potentialities than bittersweet realities…