At Wimbledon yesterday, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s five-set upset of Roger Federer was undoubtedly the most exciting and talked-about match — especially since Federer had initially won the first two sets.
In comparison, Andy Murray’s three-set victory over Feliciano Lopez seemed effortless. In fact, Murray was the only player yesterday to win his quarterfinal match in straight sets (even No. 1 Nadal lost a tie-break to Mardy Fish in his third set). Murray has yet to win a Grand Slam, but he’s nevertheless garnered a huge fan base over the last few years, especially in his native Great Britain (he’s a Scotsman). He has by and large filled the void left by Tim Henman in the psyche of British tennis fans. That being said, all comparisons to Henman should end there. Murray is a much better player than Henman ever was. For starters, he’s been runner up in the U.S. Open once and the Australian twice, while poor Tim never made it past the semis in any Grand Slam. Moreover, what makes Murray so fun to follow is not merely the land from which he hails, but the way he plays the game. To put it bluntly, Andy Murray is today’s John McEnroe.
No, I don’t mean that he mouths off at the chair umpire after a call he doesn’t like. I mean that he puts his heart into the game. I’m happy to stipulate that, objectively speaking, Roger Federer is probably the greatest tennis player of all time, but I never found him particularly exciting to watch. During his peak years (back when Nadal only won French Opens), Federer played like a machine — he was perfectly fit, and had perfect execution. This began to change a bit as he got older and Nadal’s non-clay game improved, but you still rarely see him looking anything other than calm and focused.
Murray, on the other hand, is much more interesting to watch precisely because he is not as powerful as a Federer, much less a Nadal. Like McEnore in his time, he’s not as physical as most of the top players, but he has an intuitive feel for court layout and has the ability to come back with amazing shots just when you think he’s about to lose a given rally. Though he’s naturally a defensive player, he’s been able to step up his offense in the past few tournaments. He’s also been able to make improvements to his mental game, improvements which were badly needed.
If Murray has demonstrated one major weakness over the years, it’s been his mindset and attitude: He’s very prone to choking and beating himself up when it counts. Though you wouldn’t know it from their Grand Slam matches together, Murray actually has a winning record against Federer, it’s just that all of his wins are in smaller tournaments that obviously lack the prestige and attention the public gives to something like Wimbledon. This is not to say that the problem is solely his own making — he’s under the same pressure that Henman was to bring a title home to Britain, probably more pressure since he’s a better player. But so far, it’s eluded him. Murray’s attitude problem reached its nadir at last year’s U.S. Open, when he was knocked out in just the third round by Stanislas Wawrinka, a player whom he had consistently beaten up until that point.
All that said, he’s improved since that low point last summer, making it to the finals in the Australian and the semis in the French. He’s also in the best physical shape of his career, which makes this year’s Wimbledon his best shot yet to win the title. It won’t be easy — he’s up against Nadal tomorrow. But one can still hope. As is always heard in the crowd during one of his matches, “Come on, Murray!”