The British public should thank Juan Martin Del Potro.
I’m of the belief that, more than anything, Del Potro’s five-set epic with Novak Djokovic exhausted the Serb mentally and physically.
While ordinarily Djokovic can shrug off those kinds of semi-final clashes and play to his maximum in the final, the couple of per cent that it took out of him was enough for Andy Murray to dominate the Wimbledon decider.
It was obvious to me right from the start that Djokovic was below par. Sure, there were some gruelling, fantastic points – none more so than the opening exchange – and in total there were a good dozen or so of these rallies that we would expect in a clash between this pair.
But the unforced errors and the repeated slumps from Djokovic are so out of character that you have to conclude that he was off his game.
Djokovic has an incredible ability to fight back – probably the best in tennis right now – so you feared for Murray when he blew those three championship points in the deciding game.
Something about being on the brink of defeat seems to inspire Djokovic, and I feared for Murray when he clawed his way back into the third set. So great credit must go to Murray for seeing him off.
Only Djokovic knows why he was under-par in the final, and it may well have been a combination of factors.
In addition to his exertions in the previous round, he had to contend with a crowd that was hostile by Wimbledon standards, certainly one that was strongly pro-Murray.
Andy didn’t have the same level of support in last year’s final, which was a result of two factors: he was yet to fully capture the British public’s imagination, and Wimbledon also has a respect for Roger Federer, for his greatness and achievements, that makes it difficult to fully get behind his opponent.
This time though the gloves were off. While popular, there is no Wimbledon romance regarding Djokovic, and plenty regarding Murray nowadays.
Combined with the extra two hours or so Djokovic had to put into his semi-final, you get that extra three or four per cent that is so crucial at the top of the game, where the margins are so fine.
Murray, meanwhile, reaped the rewards of his incredible focus and dedicated, almost masochistic fitness regime. He no longer feels the weight of expectation – that was relieved at the Olympics and in New York – and he is one of the finest athletes on the tour now.
He dropped three sets en route to the final but, crucially, he never seemed tired or put-out by any of his matches. Certainly the collapses of Federer and Rafael Nadal cleared his draw up, but at the moment he is a superior player on grass to both so you wonder if it would have made such an impact.
However, while I feel Murray would have ridden the crowd’s energy to beat Djokovic anyway, I do feel the Serb made it easy for him.
Certainly he didn’t show his full capabilities. In the last few years Djokovic has started almost every match he’s played with a clear belief that he is going to win. He didn’t look convinced against Murray, he seemed aware that it may be too much for him given the circumstances.
While it’s premature to call Murray the King of Grass – you can never write Federer off, and Djokovic is still the clear world number one – you got the impression that the Serb approached the match as he would a clay-court final with Nadal: as the underdog, the one who had to resist.
So what next for Murray? The world number one slot is very much in his sights, although not as close as some have been suggesting – he absolutely has to win the US Open, as he has more ranking points to lose that Djokovic; he will need to get to the Australian Open final; he will need to win some tournaments in between.
It is certainly achievable and, now that Murray holds two Grand Slam titles, he should raise the bar towards that goal, as opposed to just winning another Major, which he should do.
Raising the bar could prove difficult though. When Murray was a teenager training in Spain, his colleagues joked that he was the lazy British – difficult to wake up in the morning, reluctant to do extra fitness work.
Something changed in Murray, long before he employed Ivan Lendl, who has taken that focus, that fanaticism, to another level.
Murray has to avoid falling into the trap that some other British athletes have: he has done it all now, in relative terms, so he must resist the temptation to ease off slightly, to become complacent, to lose some of the edge to his driven, fanatical approach to preparation and match play.
I think it is unlikely as that mindset is now ingrained into Murray’s psyche – he has become dependent on the training, the lifestyle, on winning, moulding himself into Lendl’s image in that respect.
The problem he is more likely to face is that his intensity of training and play will eventually take a toll on his body. Federer has been able to maintain his career for many years because his obsession with winning has been less compromised by any impact on his physique – the Swiss’s style of play is less demanding and intense on his body, and so he can continue for longer.
Murray appears to enjoy being a perfectionist – and so long as his mind and body agree, there is no reason why he cannot stay at the top for a while yet.
- Sports & Recreation
- Novak Djokovic
- Andy Murray