Watching Andy Murray tear himself through week after week of his now Groundhog Day-like career is a spectacle that offers his fans an abundance of knuckle-clenching frustration only because they all know how much the man himself so desperately wishes to be freed from the torturous circuit of the same-again-same-again roundabout.
First and second round slug-fests that sap his energy levels dry and leave him nothing to fight forward with are frequently the norm at the moment. These are victories that he used to revel in, knowing for a fact that his ability to to take strength and grow out and into tournament draws from these temperamental of starts would enable him to come together and solidify in the first, second, third or even fourth rounds. He’d find his comfort place right on time to flex his muscles when most required.
Now though, he must surely know that that he cannot afford these most ragged of beginnings to events that he hopes to last late in. Going two-and-a-half to three hours in opening combat might glow in the moment of occurrence with rose-tinted fond memories of vintage dogged Murray but they do nothing for him in follow-up duels. We know he can win first round matches, maybe even sometimes second ones too. But it’s what comes later, what comes after, what comes when it really matters for him that must be looked at now.
The thing is, if Murray were out there swinging and happy with picking up wins here and there, sporadic in his runs but pleased to simply be existing in a world he used to dominate, we could only be fine with it. We could only applaud the strength of his love for the sport that keeps him walking through those doors. We’d be fine to watch him compete and to let the afterglow of what he once achieved take us through these last few messy but content chapters of his career story.
But he’s not. He’s not at ease with this. He’s not happy fading away after just a smidgen of a positive beginning. He’s embroiled in a battle to drag anything of his old self out through his racket strings and prop it up against his opponents. And sometimes it works! Sometimes it comes good for him but only really once in awhile. Only really once in awhile. And unfortunately, tennis players so rarely get by on once-in-a-whiles.
So the debate, then, is what can be done. Perhaps nothing? Perhaps this is just the way it is and we wave goodbye to Andy Murray as he struggles to give one more burst of something. He never was going to be a player to accept his ending easily and so maybe his fate is to go screaming with disappointment at never being able to claim one final triumphant bow.
Oh, but where’s the fun in imagining that? It may well happen but reality is too often cold and so we’ll look for alternatives because as rough as this period is for Murray, there are options for him and he’ll be studying them all closely.
First and foremost, he needs a coach unafraid to read him the script. Someone to disagree with his plans and his outlook and tell him what’s going wrong and why things need to change. No longer can he hang back and defend against opposition with younger and more powerfully consistent baseline strokes. He knows that but changing up an entire structure of a game-style that brought with it such success that it enabled him to write his name heavy in the books of tennis legend will be a task difficult to comprehend engaging with. And so he needs someone to help him with that. Change is only scary when you tackle it alone.
Secondly, let’s not be afraid to play some qualifying events or challengers later this year. If we’re serious about finding form, these are the stomping grounds in which to roll around in. He’s not playing the clay season due to risk of injury so this could present some prime opportunities to pick up a few points elsewhere. You need not see this as beneath you, Mr. Murray, not you made from so much fire and passion. You’d burn up local park courts with that your famed intensity so let’s see you translate that properly. We would not say no to a Challenger tournament win!
And thirdly, he need not be fearful. Losses might come more easily to him now then ever before and the doubts that go hand-in-hand with them might well rot away at his confidence and momentum can seem so far away, oh, so far away from him right now while the very best players seem still seem able to nail themselves to that pendulum of swinging strength and ride it to wins on wins on wins. But if he can find a way to even just staple himself to it for a bit, just a little bit of time, then we know that he knows that he’ll run with it. You give someone like Andy fucking Murray a half a chance at anything and he’ll take you for the whole and leave you with nothing.
And so either we keep things as they are and acknowledge that going out like a breathless warrior would be somewhat symbolic of the man who kept running until he just couldn’t run no more or we look to embrace change that’s lurking knowingly, that raises an eyebrow with expectation and is all too aware of the necessity of its presence.
Watching Murray navigate this one-step-forward-one-step-back period of his career is frightening in its relatability. We’ve all let go of things we care deeply about throughout our lives, some of us multiple times, many of us before we’re quite ready to do so. If Murray is to avoid his fingers slipping from the railings of this silly annoying sport that seems keen to dislodge him from its inner-working, then he must do something new. Many may not believe him capable of doing that at this stage but I do. I do. And it’s very possible I’m wrong. I’m nothing but a fan, after all.
But there’s still time. There’s still time for me to be right. Indeed, something either gives soon or it doesn’t but until certainty rears its head, you keep going, Andy Murray.