King Andy’s battles

Dec 21, 2021, 6:00:00 AM | by Steven Oliveira

Andy Murray
He lost several Grand Slam finals, underwent two hip surgeries, was crowned in Wimbledon, conquered two Olympic gold medals and was the best ATP player at some point. Let’s review Andy Murray’s wonderful decade.

2011: Rome, the most beautiful defeat

On your left, Novak Djokovic, World No 2, 35 wins in a row. On your right, Andy Murray, World No 4, who was crushed by Djokovic in the previous Australian Open final (4-6, 2-6, 3-6) and still had to make it to a tournament final on clay. This Italian Open semi-final seemed quite imbalanced beforehand, and Djokovic even won the first set 6-1 after a 26-shot rally concluded on a wonderful drop shot. Still, Murray, who had just put an end to his collaboration with Àlex Corretja, showed what a brave and strong player he was. He overturned the course of the game and started winning these endless rallies. At 6-3, a boxing fight began. Every break was followed by a break back. 5-4. Andy Murray served for the match and cracked. Double fault. Nole hit the net. Another double fault. 5-5. Murray missed his chance and, after 3 hours and 2 minutes – including 1 hour and 24 minutes just for the third set – he lost on tie-break (7-2). The match was voted best ATP two-winning set match in 2011. Andy was disappointed, but could not have done much more: “I played my best tennis and lost to the best player in the world at the moment…” He would take revenge against Novak Djokovic five years later, in the Italian Open final.


2012: In Fred Perry’s footsteps

As French rapper Orelsan says, “life is made of cycles”, and they may last for quite a long time. In fact, it took a while for another British tennis player to win a first Grand Slam tournament since Fred Perry in 1936, despite the couple of finals played by Bunny Austin, John Lloyd, Greg Rusedski and Andy Murray, who lost the fifth final of his career in Wimbledon, in 2012. It was one too many for Murray, whose coach was eight-time Grand Slam tournament winner Ivan Lendl. But the penny dropped when he won the Olympic gold medal in London, after beating Federer and Djokovic. In the 2012 US Open final, he met Novak Djokovic – his best enemy – and beat him for the first time in a Grand Slam tournament (7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2) after a 4-hour-54-minute-long match, tying the 1988 final record set by Mats Wilander and… Ivan Lendl. That’s how 25-year-old Andy Murray won his first Grand Slam tournament in New York, on 10th September, i.e., in the same stadium and on the same day as Fred Perry’s last major title. Not sure that Andy Murray will become a clothing brand in the future, but who knows?


2013: the master of turnarounds

Let’s get back in 2005. 18-year-old Andy Murray was then World No 374 and got a wildcard for his first-ever Grand Slam tournament, in Wimbledon. He proved he was up to it by beating Swiss player George Bastl in the first round, then 14th-seeded Radek Štěpánek in the next round. In the third round, he played against David Nalbandian and had a 2-0 lead before finally losing 3-2. He did not know it yet, but it would be the only time in his career he would lose a match after winning the first two sets. Quite ironically, he would even become the master of turnarounds; Richard Gasquet knows a lot about it, as he has experienced it twice. Eight years later, Murray was down 2-0 against Fernando Verdasco in the Wimbledon quarterfinal and, at that moment, definitely remembered his match against Nalbandian. One thing is for sure: he got back on his feet and won for the seventh time after losing the first two sets (4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5). Untouchable Andy cruised to the final and eventually destroyed the player who had beaten him in the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic (6-4, 7-5, 6-4), who conceded his first-ever 3-0 Grand Slam final defeat. As for Murray, he became the first British Wimbledon winner since… Fred Perry in 1936.


2015: Family victory

Andy Murray started the 2015 season with Amélie Mauresmo as a coach. Murray confessed in an IOC column that it was seen as a poor choice: “When I saw people’s reactions, I realized choosing Amélie as a coach was not of their liking. They had doubts just because she is a woman.” It proved people did not know Andy, whose first coach was Judy, his mother and a former professional player. She had coached Andy and Jamie, his older brother; they grew up playing tennis together, which is why they were so comfortable together in the 2015 Davis Cup quarterfinal against France. Andy and Jamie, who is a doubles specialist, beat Tsonga and Mahut (4-6, 6-3, 7-65, 6-1). It is well known that doubles are very important in the Davis Cup, especially for a team that only has one Top 80 player in its ranks, and it was Great Britain’s case back then. Andy Murray knew it: for his country to win its first Davis Cup since 1936, he had to win all his matches, both in simples and doubles. That’s what he did against France, then against Australia in the semis, which he concluded on a doubles match that lasted for more than four hours against Sam Growth and Lleyton Hewitt (4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 66-7, 6-4). After qualifying for the final, Andy Murray shed a tear. Together with his brother, they destroyed Belgium in the final. Their mother was in the stands, and she was proud of her sons.


2016: A man in gold

Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Tony Estanguet… It is quite common to see athletes keep their Olympic gold medal from one edition to the other. But not in tennis, where it had barely ever happened in – men and women – simples before the Rio Games. Though it was quite mission impossible for Great-Britain standard-bearer Andy Murray, who had Ivan Lendl back as a coach and had just cruised to victory in Wimbledon, he is not the kind of guy who would get overwhelmed under pressure, even when he was 3-0 down in the round of 16 last set against Fabio Fognini. He would win 6 games in a row, qualify for the quarterfinals and beat Steve Johnson on tie-break in the final set, before beating Kei Nishikori in semi-final. Andy Murray overcame Juan Martín del Potro, another hard fighter, in a 4-hour-2-minute-long final (7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5). And it was nothing compared to their revenge in the Davis Cup semi-final, in Glasgow, Andy’s hometown. This time, Del Potro won after more than five hours (4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 4-6) of what is still considered the best match of the decade in the competition.


2016: On top of the world of tennis

Federer, Federer, Federer, Federer, Nadal, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Djokovic, Nadal, Djokovic, Djokovic. Here are the World No 1 at the end of each season from 2004 to 2015. The streak could have kept going until at least 2021 if a man had not decided to join the fight. Andy Murray was indisputably the best player in the world out of this Big 3, which actually was a Big 4. A finalist in Australia and Paris, a winner in Wimbledon, the two-time Olympic champion also won the Italian Open and the Shanghai Masters in 2016. In the Paris Masters, Andy Murray had to reach the final to become the 26th World No 1 since 1973, and the oldest player to do so since John Newcombe in 1974. It was mission accomplished when Milos Raonic gave up in the semi-final. Murray then became the best player in the world and won the final against John Isner. A few weeks later, they met again in the Masters semi-final. But this time, Milos Raonic would not do him any favour, with his super powerful serve. But it would not be enough to beat Andy Murray, who won after 3 hours and 38 minutes (5-7, 7-65, 7-69) – the longest match in the Masters history – before blowing Djokovic in the final and proving he was the best player in 2016. What did make a difference? Being a father, according to Jamie Delgado, his assistant coach, who said to the BBC: “It has made him more mature. A lot of things have happened off-court, and it has helped him be more relaxed on-court.” What do they say about baby blues again?


2017: The day the French Open crowd stopped booing him

It is quite a euphemism to say Andy Murray is not the fans’ favourite in Paris. Why is that? In the 2012 French Open, he kept asking for the physio to relieve his back and kept switching from pain grimaces to winning rallies. Plus, there was his victory in the round of 16 against French player Richard Gasquet, who complained about Murray’s attitude. After that, Murray would often be booed in Paris, until the 2017 semi-final against Stan Wawrinka. The man who should now be called Sir Andy Murray – as he received knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II – finally had the recognition he deserved from the Paris crowd. Unfortunately for him, the applause came after he lost to Wawrinka (7-66, 3-6, 7-5, 63-7, 1-6). But considering how great that 4-hour-34-minute-long match was, the crowd could only cheer the unfortunate loser. In the end, the French Open would be the only hiatus of his year, as he lost in the Australian Open round of 16 to Mischa Zverev and in the Wimbledon quarterfinals to Sam Querrey, but also suffered from elbow and hip injuries because of which he was side-lined for most of the year and got out of the world’s Top 10 for the first time in 10 years.


2018: a useless surgery

Andy Murray has never been afraid of surgeries. In 2013, he missed the US Open due to a back surgery but came back and became World No 1 two years later. Yet, in 2018, Murray hesitated for a long time before undergoing hip surgery. But the pain was too intense; Murray withdrew from the Australian Open and talked about his hip surgery on the BBC: “I am not done with high-level tennis. I will be back in force. I am optimistic about the future; the surgeon is very happy about how the surgery went. My goal is to be back for the season on grass, but I will take my time. I will come back when I am ready.” Though he was optimistic, Murray would soon be disillusioned; he would not be ready for Wimbledon, despite playing the Queen’s Club. He ended the season as world No 240.


2019: time to retire?

Andy Murray arrived in tears in the press conference before the Australian Open. “Sorry, I don’t feel good. I’ve been fighting for months; I’ve suffered awfully for more than twenty months. I have tried all I could to feel better, but my hip still hurts. I’ll keep playing; I can keep playing at a certain level, but not a level that makes me happy. The pain is much too intense, I don’t want to keep playing like this. I would love to end my career in Wimbledon, but I am not even sure I could. I doubt I can keep playing in such pain for another four or five months. The Australian Open might be my final tournament.” The negative side is that Andy Murray, who would undergo another surgery to get a metal rod inserted in his hip, would not play the Wimbledon doubles that year. The positive side is that the Australian Open, lost in the first round after a hard-fought 4-hour-long battle against Roberto Bautista-Agut (4-6, 4-6, 7-65, 7-64, 2-6), would not be Murray’s last tournament. The time for early retirement has not even come yet. Even better: Murray won the 2019 European Open in Antwerp against Stan Wawrinka (3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the final); he lifted his first trophy since February 2017 and also won the ATP Award for the best comeback of the year. And, considering what Murray has been through to make it, it is a well-deserved award.


2020: the champion is back

Chronic pain, a metal hip which turns airport metal detectors on, grabbing tournament wildcards here and there for tournaments he should not play as he is no longer a Top 100 player: this is what Andy Murray’s new life looks like. Murray’s hip is made of metal indeed, but so are his right arm, which can still provide aces and passing shots, and his mental strength, no matter the opponent, hence the victory against Alexander Zverev (6-3, 3-6, 7-5) in Cincinnati. A few days later, he used the momentum of that first victory against a Top 10 player since 2017 to overturn Yoshihito Nishioka in the US Open first round (4-6, 4-6, 7-65, 7-64, 6-4), as a symbol of a decade in which, any time he seemed to be down or drowning in an ocean of problems, Murray always found a way to pick himself up.