Without a doubt, we are now living an era where the top four players in the world are the strongest in the history of tennis.
I cannot help but think that changes will happen this year - and that, having observed him since the start of the year, one of them could be Andy Murray.
At the Australian Open I commentated for Eurosport on the semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Murray. I found the match thrilling and instructive: it confirmed a trend I had noticed in the preceding months.
The media has talked a great deal about the collaboration between Murray and Ivan Lendl, who endured a similar situation - in falling late in Grand Slams - as Andy is living now, before going on to clinch eight Grand Slams. I find this duet very interesting because it seems that Lendl can provide the qualities that Murray has lacked for some years in taking the next step.
Andy Murray is a prodigy. If he is not as creative as Roger Federer on court, he has the same talent regarding his ball touch, his variety of shots, the way he can speed up the game and how loosely he plays. He's also a remarkable counterpuncher, can cover the court really well and has maybe one of the three best returns on the Tour. If you add up all of these abilities, it is tough to not picture him at the top. Yet he remains ranked in fourth.
A strong message
Until the decision to hire Lendl, the Scotsman had never really taken a decision to change his failing situation. Until then, he accepted the situation without taking control. By hiring Lendl, he has sent out a strong and clear message. There are still holes in his strategy which are preventing him from achieving his true potential, but at least now he has a man of experience at his side who is able to check things, change some of his attitudes and gameplans, and change the orientation of his game in order to realise his dream: winning a Grand Slam.
During the semi-final against Djokovic, Andy was really impressive. For three sets he dominated. He lost the first, probably, because he respected his opponent too much - but was then much better than him in the second and third sets. Two things struck me during this match: when Murray is physically at his best and playing without fear, he is better than Djokovic in all elements of tennis. They own similar games: a good serve, an outstanding return, counterpunching from the baseline, refusing to move back and covering ground. I realised that Nole has no real solution against Andy at these times; however Grand Slams can go to five sets, and the Serbian was far better in his capacity to maintain intensity. I cannot imagine Lendl overlooking that little detail - and I'm sure he will be the one to solve the issue with his usual dedication.
Tennis-wise, it has been said again and again that Murray lacked guidelines and purpose, and also that he relied too much upon his talent. Climbing to the top requires commitment and an absolute respect of the strategies that have been set up. Since January, I have noticed adjustments in his game, such as the way he moves forward more on his opponent's second serve. Trying to take the lead by coming inside the court more often and taking the ball earlier is a positive first step. During points, Andy now dominates more and has greater authority when attacking chances come along. On this, too, Lendl seems able to help him: he is a man of commitment and will help Murray play with more confidence and a better temper. Murray's game is rich - but it can get lost within too much thought.
Finally, Andy still has issues in killing off opponents. In Melbourne, he lost the first set despite dominating; he came back to 5-5 in the fifth set, but lost. In Dubai he beat Djokovic, who was far from his best, but allowed the Serbian to come back in the second set. Such hesitation could force him to pay a heavy price in the big matches against players who have often beaten him. Lendl knows this kind of situation well, and his self-confidence should be applied to Murray. If Andy amasses a good record against the other members of the top four, it could free him from complexes when the rewards are greater in the Grand Slams. I think Andy is on the right track in order to get his name on a Grand Slam trophy. He needs to be given time, because all the great things take time; I feel he could end 2012 in second spot in the standings.