By Claire Stanley
When Andy Murray steps onto the court, I always believe – truly – that he’ll emerge victorious. He’s been through too much, picked himself up again too many times, loves the game too much for me to believe it’ll go any other way.
But recently it’s been harder to believe. When I say it out loud I sometimes wonder who am I trying to convince more: those around me, or myself?
Andy Murray is a finite resource. I know he’s not going to be around forever, as painful as it is to admit to myself – he’s a regular human being, after all. Except he’s actually slightly superhuman and has defied a lot of odds to still be on the tennis courts today – and three years ago many wondered if he would ever play tennis professionally again.
Three years ago I was desperate for any update, any snippet of news, any sign that he might be hitting a ball. Just over two years ago I was simply delighted to see him back on court, it didn’t matter if he lost, he was there, he was fighting, he was playing and he was pain free. Last year some of the losses were a little hard to stomach but the blow was softened often by how well he was playing, how quickly he was moving, that it looked like – with just a little bit more time and matches – he would be fighting his way back to the top of the game where he belonged.
Seven weeks into 2022 and I’m feeling deflated. Like I’m having the same bad dream over and over, except it’s not actually a dream. With the exception of a great run in Sydney before the Australian Open, it’s been a difficult start to the year. With each passing R1 or R2 loss I find it harder and harder to just smile and say “but oh, isn’t it great to see him back on court?” – because truth be told, it’s not. It’s not great to see your sporting hero look like a shadow of his former self, being run into the ground, outclassed and outgassed by someone he would, under normal circumstances, beat nine times out of ten.
Andy has played five tournaments so far this year: Melbourne Summer Set, Sydney Classic, Australian Open, Rotterdam, and most recently Doha. In all but two, he has lost in the second round – in Melbourne Summer Set he lost in round 1, and in Sydney gave us hope when he went all the way to the final for a respectable (if still disappointing) loss against Aslan Karatsev.
He hasn’t made the majority of matches he’s won easy on himself: long, gruelling three setters (an even longer, gruelling five setter in the first round of the Australian Open) – until he found himself up against Taro Daniel in the first round at Doha; the man who disposed of him so efficiently in R2 in Melbourne. Murray exacted his revenge, taking the Japanese player out cleanly in 80 minutes. Was this an indication the tide was turning?
To be blunt: no.
Much like the aftermath of his stellar R1 victory over Alexander Bublik in Rotterdam, Murray simply fell apart at the seams in R2. This particular match, against Roberto Bautista Agut – the man who almost retired Murray in 2019 – was hard to watch, even for the most optimistic of Andy fans.
It took RBA just over an hour to demolish the man who plays so well in Doha, with conditions that suit his game perfectly. Just over an hour to reduce Murray to a player who couldn’t be further from the man who took to the court 24 hours earlier against Taro Daniel. Just over an hour to win 12 games, allowing Murray just one. Five breaks of serve. A first set bagel, a second set breadstick. An annihilation of a once-great warrior.
So the question is, what’s the problem? What changes in 24 hours? Is that not sufficient time for Murray’s body to recover from any match now – and if so, how does he overcome that? Most of the tournaments outside of slams don’t have the same recovery window, you may get a day here and there, but for the most part a player is on court day after day after day – fatigue isn’t really an option.
And if it’s not fatigue and lack of recovery time, what else could it be? Is it a mental block? Is it the absence of a permanent coach? If it’s a mental block, how does he get past it? I don’t know the answers, I wish I did. The only thing I’m absolutely certain about at this stage is that Andy needs consistency – on the court and off it. He needs a coach, someone who isn’t afraid to tell him where he’s going wrong and what he needs to do to fix it. Someone who isn’t afraid of a challenge – because, let’s face it, right now Andy Murray is a challenge.
I hope there’s someone out there willing to take it on. Until then he’ll push on as he always does. And I’ll try to keep believing.