Is Andy Murray any closer to that elusive Grand Slam title?
Nick Atkin analyses Andy Murray's performance in Melbourne and asks if the British No1 is any closer to winning a Major
As the catchphrase of the famous professional wrestler Ric Flair went, “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man,” a feeling Andy Murray can certainly relate to.
The dedicated and low-key Scot might not share the “limousine-riding, jet-flying, wheeling-dealing, kiss-stealing” persona of Flair’s character, but he would certainly admire the 16-times world champion’s winning mentality.
Having seen Murray’s career unfold and the tennis he’s capable of playing, it has been fairly easy to back him in his quest to attain the holy grail of a Grand Slam title.
The naysayers will have you believe that every time he comes up in a Major against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic that he’s already beaten before he walks on court.
The Scot has won neither of his two clashes with both Federer and Djokovic, and though he’s conquered Nadal twice, the feat is overshadowed by his four defeats by the Spaniard.
The figures make for grim reading but Murray’s commendable record against his three nemeses on the rest of the tour have always been a source of hope.
However, as Murray prepared to do battle with Djokovic this week, for the first time one felt he simply had no chance.
With a Grand Slam final and three semi-finals in 2011 Murray enjoyed a great year, but the Serb had an unbelievable one, conquering Melbourne, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.
And for the first set-and-a-half of their encounter, Murray seemed to be succumbing to the same script: power his way through the tournament, then crumble as soon as he ran into one of these three amazing competitors.
But Murray proved those who doubted his mental fortitude wrong with an astounding effort in defeat, drawing on previously unseen depths of character, stamina and sheer will.
After his annihilation at the hands of Djokovic in last year’s Australian Open final, Murray suffered an alarming dip in form which didn’t see him recover until the clay-court season.
Many observers believe this time Murray can take a lot of positives despite the same outcome and use the experience to drive himself to the summit.
That he took the world No1 to his absolute limit will surely steel the Scot with the belief he can finally compete with the very best, they say.
But though Murray showed he can compete with Djokovic, he didn’t show he could beat him.
It’s unfair to criticise Murray given the bravery of his performance, but the cold, hard truth is he didn’t win the Australian Open and the Grand Slam monkey remains on his back.
The primate clinging to his muscular shoulders is fast growing into a ten-tonne gorilla, a psychological King Kong that refuses to relinquish its hold.
What if the result has the opposite affect on Murray’s mindset? Instead of taking heart from his performance, the idea his very best might never be good enough could solidify in his mind.
He may have nagging thoughts that he’s up against an immovable force, a paralysing and poisonous debilitation Murray’s new coach Ivan Lendl must ensure doesn’t take hold.
It could still go either way for Murray’s Grand Slam hopes, but if he’s to finally achieve his dream he’ll have to not just compete with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic but beat them.