by David Cox
It’s been a surreal summer for Andy Murray. Even in his wildest dreams last December, he couldn’t have hoped for a better year. A first Wimbledon final, Olympic gold and now, the feeling of joining the elite club of Grand Slam champions, the holy grail for all tennis players.
Sure Rafa Nadal’s injury enforced absence has helped Murray’s cause somewhat – the British star may well have broken his major duck sooner had it not been for the wall-like presence of the Spanish superstar who’s consistently blocked Murray’s path in Paris, London and New York over the past few years.
However all champions need a stroke of luck and to beat Roger Federer in the Olympic final and Novak Djokovic over five sets at Flushing Meadows, Murray has shown his mettle against two of the greatest players of all time.
So can Murray continue in the same vein and win more slams? We see no reason why not.
Federer turns 32 next year, Nadal is fighting a losing battle against his increasingly decrepid knee joints and Djokovic is not the same player he was in 2011. Still only 25, Murray now has a new self-belief in his game and his fans can rest assured that neither Murray nor coach Ivan Lendl are the kind of characters to sit back and rest on their laurels.
Having already made the final twice at the Australian Open, there’s no reason why he can’t add that title to his collection and the same goes for Wimbledon. Clay is not a natural surface for him and Nadal has the beating of pretty much anyone on the dirt, even when just 80% fit but if his knees put him out of the equation then Murray has at least a shot at making the final.
However it remains to be seen whether Murray can discover the kind of consistency required to reach world number one.
Even in the Masters 1000 events this year, he’s looked lacking in motivation at times (in between the Olympics and the US Open, he lost early in Montreal and Cincinnati) but with the summit of world tennis looking increasingly attainable, that may give him a renewed drive.
"When I get back on the court and start practising again, I'll feel what it's like to have a bit more belief in myself and my shots,” Murray told the press last week.
“I want to keep improving. I know how it feels to win a Grand Slam and winning the Olympics. I could have won Wimbledon this year, I was very close. I know if I'm in that position again, I'll take the same chances, I'll go for my shots again.
A little bit more confidence and experience of taking my chances in big matches will help me."
Time will tell whether Murray can go on to match the feats of his mentor Lendl but for now, lets take a look at some great champions of the past who took their time to win their first major.
Ivan Lendl – The comparisons between Murray and Czech hard man Lendl began well before they linked up at the start of the year. After Murray’s defeat to Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open final, many were pointing to the example of Lendl, who also lost his first four Grand Slam finals before going on to win eight major titles.
Unlike Murray, Lendl was at his best on the clay where his relentless, almost robotic, style of baseline hitting made him such a tough opponent. He won his first slam in even more dramatic circumstances than his protégée, coming from two sets to love down to defeat John McEnroe at the French Open in 1984.
One of the most painful defeats of McEnroe’s career (he never came close again to completing the career Grand Slam), it demonstrated to the world, Lendl’s almost superhuman mental strength.
Andre Agassi – Hard to imagine now but as he pointed out in his autobiography, Agassi spent much of his career being regarded as a underachiever compared to the relentless drive of his great rival Pete Sampras, only becoming a serial major winner in his late 20s and 30s.
A precocious junior talent, Agassi made the 1990 French Open final at 20 but as we now know, he was more preoccupied with the precarious state of his hairpiece than his opponent Andre Gomez and he lost in four sets. More heartache was to follow as Sampras outgunned him in the New York final later that summer and despite making a second successive final at Roland Garros the following year, Agassi was once again crippled by the occasion.
However despite his well publicised loathing of grass, the colourful Las Vegan finally made his breakthrough at Wimbledon 1992, winning a memorable five setter against Goran Ivanisevic.
Goran Ivanisevic – Few can forget Magic Monday at Wimbledon 11 years ago, yet another example of great sporting script-writing in the sky as Ivanisevic finally won his first Wimbledon title with a epic victory over Australia’s Pat Rafter.
Unlike Murray, Agassi and Lendl, Ivanisevic never seriously challenged for any of the sport’s other three major titles but on the grass he was deadly, serving over 200 aces on the way to his first Wimbledon final in 1992.
However until 2001, Ivanisevic’s volatility looked destined to cost him that coveted title. He finished runner-up three times – 1992, 1994 and 1998 but just when his career looked to be over (he famously required a wildcard for Wimbledon 2001 having slipped out of the world’s top 100 after a string of first round exits), the tennis gods finally smiled on him.