The rise and fall of a tennis genius. What now?
Andy Murray has beaten Federer and Nadal and appeared in three Grand slam finals. Now he's losing to players outside the Top 100. What's gone wrong?
'He's got the talent,' says former world champion Martina Navratilova, 'but he's got to get tougher on himself mentally.'
She's talking about Andy Murray, Britain's top tennis player. Currently fifth in the world tennis rankings, he's facing a severe loss of form. He has not won a set since the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January.
Since the 3 – 0 defeat in the final by Novak Djokovich, he's been beaten in straight sets first by the world No.143 and then by a man ranked 118. Other top players do not lose in this manner.
The player himself is at a loss to explain the dip. 'I've been practicing better and training hard,' he says, 'but on the match court I can't get anything going.'
It's frustrating for the 23-year-old who two years ago, when he won the Miami Masters, was thought by many to be playing the best tennis in the world. 'I don't want to be playing like this,' he says. 'There is no intensity and my movement is so poor. I don't know exactly what it is.'
Navratilova believes he must take more responsibility. 'He's too quick to pass the blame,' she says. 'Looking at his box and yelling at them as if it's somehow their fault he missed that forehand.'
Others think he must learn to listen to advice. Since parting company with Miles Maclagan, he has preferred a team of friends around him, rather than a full-time coach.
His mother – called 'pushy' by some – attends all his matches. But many in the sport now believe Murray needs someone with him on a permanent basis who's been there, done it and could speak honestly – a 'big name' who wouldn't fear losing his job.
'He clearly needs someone around to drive him,' says John Lloyd, former British Davis Cup captain. 'Of course, Andy is his own boss but, from the outside, you can't see how his camp is right.'
Top coaches are expensive but Lloyd thinks it would be worth it. 'With Andy's income running into millions, surely he can see the positive benefits of spending £250,000 a year on a coach?'
'This sport is all mental,' Djokovic says of Murray's downturn. 'If you don't have self-confidence, it can easily turn against you.'
Brad Gilbert, his former coach, agrees and believes the effects of the Australian defeat live on. 'Just like a hangover, it takes time to recover,' he says. 'At every level, the core of success depends on the level of confidence. But Murray is too great a player not to consider this a road bump. He will come out of this.'
With Wimbledon approaching, his fans certainly hope so.
- 'Andy Murray should practice less and listen more.' Do you agree?
- 'Sport at the top level is all in the head.' Discuss with reference to tennis, football or other sports you know about.
- Write 10 - 50 words to inspire a sporting person as they step out into the arena.
- Look at a league table for any sport (e.g.here) to see the effect of 'home field advantage'. Use your findings to produce a statistical case for the importance of psychology in sport.
Some People Say...
“Andy is the only one to blame for his failure.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So is a top coach the answer?
- Maybe. But Tim Henman, who was the British No.1 for many years, sees a problem. 'I feel Andy needs support,' he says, 'but should he get a full-time coach? It's horses for courses. With Andy's personality, there's no point employing a coach just for the hell of it if he's not going to listen.'A Yes, and Lendl, who retired from the game 16 years ago, has things in common with Murray. When he played, he lost his first four major finals - before going on to win eight Grand Slam titles. Murray has been defeated in his first three.
- And other British players are hardly pushing him.
- No, the next British player in the world rankings is Jamie Ward at 213 - which makes Murray's position at No.5 all the more remarkable.