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Murray looks to the future

Andy Murray on Centre Court
by Kate Battersby
Thursday 3 July 2014

It's twenty-four hours after his defeat to Grigor Dimitrov, and as Andy Murray himself says, "I need to think forwards not backwards". 

“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” These are the opening words of A Grief Observed, a collection of CS Lewis’s reflections on the death of his wife Joy Davidson in 1960.

Of course, as Boris Becker said 27 years later on the day that he lost in the second round at Wimbledon and thus surrendered the title he had won for the previous two years – nobody died. Nor did they on the second Wednesday of 2014. But Andy Murray lost in the quarter-finals to Grigor Dimitrov, and with it his treasured Wimbledon crown, and to him it may feel like a kind of death.

Nothing will ever change what he did on that wonderful July Sunday a little under 12 months ago, or what it meant to him and those who love him, and the thrill it gave millions. All the same, unpalatable facts must be faced. This is his worst Wimbledon result since 2008, and his worst display since he froze in the Australian Open final in 2011. He has not won a title – nor indeed reached any final – since 7th July 2013, and his ranking will now drop to No.10, its lowest in six years.

Murray is 27, and lost three months of the autumn last year to career-threatening back surgery. Tennis is filled with hordes of dynamic, blinkered youngsters ravenous for his success – not only names already known such as Dimitrov, Krygois and Raonic, but also many more with names as yet unfamiliar. Murray is old enough to comprehend that his remaining opportunities are finite.

Elite competitors are a strange lot. Most working lives are lived in shades of grey, but at the sporting zenith the definition of success is absolute, and thus of failure too. This is the savage standard by which the cream choose to live. Their investment is total. Hence they are wounded by defeat in a way almost beyond the comprehension of those who merely watch.

The great conundrum of any sport is that there are never enough Slams, enough titles, enough gold medals to go round all of those who might be capable of winning the great prizes – and those winning for the first time realise their hunger for more has been sharpened, not sated. Rarely is there a Marion Bartoli, who finds peace on arrival at the summit, knowing the journey is complete.

By definition, as Murray himself said in the immediate aftermath of his defeat, in tennis almost everybody loses more matches than they win – and certainly more than they would like, because no one wins all the time.

Plainly, if this quarter-final defeat were not itself sufficiently grim for Murray, the manner of it is one of the few things which could make him feel any worse. Dimitrov – a long-time friend and practice partner, as well as rival – said he knew something was wrong as soon as the warm-up began. The Scot disagreed afterwards, but the fact is he delivered an error-packed display in which he could not get any part of his game working, utterly at odds with his largely smooth progress through the first four rounds.

Of course, rich credit must be given to his opponent, who arrived at Wimbledon riding the wave of his title-winning exploits at Queen’s, and as many have observed is now fulfilling the promise he has shown for so long. But there was more to this defeat than Dimitrov’s excellence.

Much is being made of two oath-laden cries of despair uttered by Murray during the match: in one he appeared to instruct his support group in the players’ box to “shut --- up”, and in the other he was heard to shout: “Five minutes before the start of the --- match.” It may be something he himself did five minutes before the start of the match to which he was referring, not necessarily one of those close to him. We cannot know unless someone states publicly and unequivocally what he meant, and of course there is no earthly reason why any of his group would do that. Besides, Murray has long been known for berating himself during play, and he spent several changeovers during this quarter-final visibly decrying his performance.

Naturally, the nay-sayers have immediately fallen upon his new coach Amelie Mauresmo, whose appointment was announced less than four weeks ago, initially for the grass court season. The widespread analysis of her crimes so far approximates to the fact that she is Not Ivan Lendl, the coach who guided Murray to Olympic gold, the US Open and Wimbledon. After that, in-depth analysis of her faults becomes a little clouded, which is hardly surprising as she has had scant opportunity to make an impact. Murray himself has gone out of his way to make public his enjoyment of working with her.

But equally obvious at his post-match press conference, whether or not he intended it, was his absolute bewilderment about what to do next.

“I need to think forwards not backwards,” he said. “I have to think about why I played badly. When I wanted to get into longer rallies, I was missing shots. Couldn’t seem to get my legs in the right place. I was unable to make him work as hard as I needed to get back into the match.

“I need to make improvements, get back on the practice court soon. I need to think about getting motivation from somewhere to try to get back to the top of my game. Younger guys are maturing and improving all the time. Is my best tennis yet to come? I don’t know.”

Murray is battling the ultimate foe – time – and it must defeat him in the end, as it does all of us, one way or another. He is not giving in and is searching for answers. But overwhelmed by the unhappiness of defeat, he cannot yet see where to look for the solution.

“Feelings and feelings and feelings,” wrote CS Lewis furiously. “Let me try to think instead.”

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