Sports Review of 2008 - Murray comes of age to join elite
AS we approach the end of 2008 with Andy Murray standing at No4 in the world, and look forward to a year in which many experts expect him to win his first Grand Slam, the Scot's rise over the past 12 months may look inevitable and irresistible. And that, in turn, might suggest that Murray's progress was steady and smooth right through the season, from the Australian Open to the Masters Cup.
But, while his indomitable spirit has always made him extremely hard to beat, Murray's ascent of the rankings in 2008 was by no means straightforward. Indeed, judged purely by position, the first half of the year saw him decline, and it was only after Wimbledon that he got back on the upward track.
The opening tournament of the season, the Doha Open, was very encouraging – Murray won it in style, defeating the then No 4 Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-final before overcoming Stanislas Wawrinka in the final. But then in Melbourne his hopes of getting to the later stages of the first Grand Slam of the year where dashed in the opening round, when he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
That defeat took on the mantle of respectability over the ensuing fortnight, as Tsonga made it all the way to the final of the Australian Open before losing to Novak Djokovic. But the Frenchman's progress was also an indication of how well Murray might have done had he succeeded in clearing that initial hurdle.
The British No 1 was back on form in February, when he won the Marseille Open, but a long patchy spell followed, and with the exception of a last-eight defeat by Davydenko in Dubai it would be another four months until he reached the quarter- finals of any event. That relatively unsuccessful spell took in the French Open, where he was knocked out in the third round by Nicolas Almagro, and only came to an end at Queen's, where he lost to Andy Roddick in a fight for a place in the semi-finals.
As Wimbledon loomed, then, Murray was some way out of contention, at least as far as the rankings were concerned. He had fallen out of the top 20 in April, and it would not be until after his home grand slam that he got back inside the top ten.
Still, while the rankings reflect results, Murray was convinced he was on the right track, and refused to be panicked into changing his plans. In particular, he continued the hard work in the gym which was giving him greater strength and stamina than had been the case – and Wimbledon demonstrated how successful that work had been.
After straight-sets wins over Fabrice Santoro and Xavier Malisse, Murray dropped a set in his third-round match against Tommy Haas, yet still made it through to the second week in some comfort. His fourth-round contest with Richard Gasquet, however, was very different, and he had to produce one of the best comebacks of the year to defeat the Frenchman in five sets after going two sets down.
Centre Court afforded the Scot a standing ovation at the conclusion of that match late on a Monday evening, and that was to be the high point of his Championships. Two days later he was out, having been whipped in straight sets by Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard, who had inflicted a fearful beating on Roger Federer to win the French Open, was on his way to his first Wimbledon title and to the No 1 spot. Murray might flex his biceps in celebration of his own improved physical prowess, but Nadal was still more muscular by far. His powers of endurance and recovery were also far greater, as he proved when he beat Federer in the final.
All the same, as the fortnight ended, Murray could rightly feel relatively happy. He had reached the last eight of a Slam for the first time, and was heading back up the charts.
From ninth in July he rose to sixth in August, then fourth in September. He has maintained that position ever since, thanks to an end-of-season run which saw him reach a higher level of consistency than ever before.
Granted, the Olympic Games were a serious disappointment: he lost his first singles match, and he and his older brother Jamie were hardly on speaking terms as they exited the doubles in round two. But there was an upside of that, as his early departure from Beijing meant Murray was in better shape than some of his rivals to contest the US Open.
A former winner of the junior title at Flushing Meadows, Murray has produced much of his best form on the US hardcourt circuit, and certainly looked at home when he tore through the early rounds. Then came perhaps his most significant match of the year: a semi-final against Nadal, whom he had never previously beaten.
He consigned that particular statistic to the history books, beating the world's best player in four sets. Federer, who had been ousted from the top spot after so long as the undisputed No 1, proved too strong for Murray in the final, which, like the Nadal match at Wimbledon, was something of an anticlimax for the Scot and his supporters. Nonetheless, it was another step forward – a first grand slam final, and the strongest indication yet that he can live with the best.
Murray has some way to go yet before he is able to mount a realistic and sustained challenge for the top spot, but there is no disputing the fact that he has made highly significant progress this year. He is no longer just a member of an amorphous chasing pack behind the top three, someone who can only turn it on occasionally against the leading trio: he has now turned that top three into a top four, and put some distance between him and the likes of Davydenko and Roddick.
Dkiokovic, the No 3, is now in his sights. He knows he can beat the Serbian, just as he knows he can also get the better of Federer and Nadal.
And Murray's success is more than just the story of one man doing well; it is also playing an important role in the regeneration of British tennis as a whole. There is still a long way to go, and in terms of the Davis Cup, Great Britain is not even at the level it reached when Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski played in the competition together. But lower down the age scale, thousands are now showing a real hunger for the sport thanks to the man from Dunblane.
In the women's game, Laura Robson can be expected to have a similar effect. The Wimbledon girls' champion may have been born in Melbourne to Australian parents, but she has lived in the United Kingdom since the age of six, and was hailed as a rare home success when she won an event in which, aged 14, she was the youngest entrant.
Thanks to her and Murray, Great Britain was able to boast two world-class competitors as well as the usual world-class tournament this year. That number could well increase over the next few seasons.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west