Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 7/9/12

I have a confession to make: I’m an Andy Murray fan. I first became enamored with the talented Scot at the All England Club in 2008. He was two sets down and a break to another enigmatic competitor, the Frenchman Richard Gasquet, and looked like he’d go down quietly in three disappointing sets. Whether it was the Wimbledon crowd, Murray’s newfound dedication to fitness, or just a coming of age match, Andy fought back, broke back, and suddenly was toying with Gasquet from the ground. I never had seen a player reminiscent of Murray before. It would not be inappropriate to designate his athleticism as ‘goofy’. Andy is hardly graceful around the court, he doesn’t seem to ‘float’ like a certain Swiss maestro, but he manages to put his hand-eye coordination, ‘goofy athleticism’, and craftiness together more than any other player I had seen on tour. He used this all around unusual combination of skills to fight past Gasquet, and force his way into the upper echelons of tennis.

Since that moment in 2008, Murray fans have been present for a series of successes, close calls, and utter failures on the beleaguered Scot’s behalf. Those who follow tennis may have heard this dozens of times, but Andy Murray may go down as the greatest tennis player to never win a Grand Slam tournament. Since 2005, there have been a total of two occasions where players not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic have won a major title. The Big Three’s iron grip on the grand slam tournaments is unprecedented, in no other era has a group of men been so dominant. That’s why when Rafael Nadal went down in shocking fashion in the second round at this year’s All England Club (Murray’s biggest obstacle here in recent years), I realized Andy may have an atypical chance for tennis immortality. Backed by a different coach (in former tennis great Ivan Lendl), and some newfound resilience, Murray blew through his draw and ended up in his fourth major final. On the other end of the court was none other than the greatest of all time: Roger Federer.

There are other reasons why Murray’s combination of talents have not yet led to a Grand Slam. For one thing, the man is his own worst enemy. He refused to hit aggressively, preferring a slicing, defensive-minded game. This mindset in turn has led to power players teeing off on Murray in latter stages of majors, especially the big three. Murray also hasn’t been endearing to many casual tennis observers, frequently displaying negative body language, yelling at himself, and often looking mentally out of sorts. But as a tennis player who also has trouble with his emotions on court, Murray to me is about as human as you can get out there. It seemed like this year may have actually been Andy’s time. Lendl came into the Murray camp with an ice-cold demeanor and a dedication to promoting aggressiveness and positivity on the court. And while Murray had been to major finals before (losing all of them in straight sets), his mental game seemed to turn a corner in his run this year. Murray was rarely negative in his gritty wins over David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, beating the two with booming serves, assertive groundstrokes and an inclination to punish every ball hit his way. All of this, and the fact that it seemed like the entire United Kingdom was at Centre Court to cheer him on, and it felt predestined that Andy Murray would finally pull through and win a major.

I refused, at first, to believe Roger Federer would have one last title left in him. The man is ancient in tennis years, turning 31 next month. But Sunday’s display on Centre Court was vintage Federer. Murray played inspired tennis the first two sets, and the match looked to go the way of similar Wimbledon epics as Nadal and Roddick versus Federer in ‘08 and ‘09 respectively. But at 2-2 in the third, Federer reminded us why he’s the GOAT. 26 points, 10 deuces, 20+ minutes, and 3 Murray wipe-outs gave Federer a break that would put him ahead for the rest of the match. Andy was fighting hard, but he lost all resolve after 2-2. More frustratingly, the Swiss player across the net really just didn’t look human. I really didn’t think I’d see this version of Federer ever again. He simply didn’t miss a shot, looked invincible up at net, and blasted forehands all over the court. You have to appreciate a genius at work, but I was entirely deflated. This was Murray’s best chance. He didn’t blow it. He didn’t self-destruct. The guy across the net from him was just better that day. But July 8th 2012 is also my proudest moment as a Murray fan. Andy is no longer just an enigma, and he’s no longer a ‘choker’. To everyone whom watched yesterday’s events on Centre Court, Andy Murray had the look of a champion. And maybe sooner rather than later, he actually will be.

-Fitzburgh

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