THE BIG names are lining up to give their backing to Andy Murray. Wimbledon edges ever closer and in this, the phoney war – the quiet before the tournament starts – everyone is picking through the entry list trying to find a possible winner. Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, is the obvious favourite, but popular wisdom has it that Murray is the man to watch.
John McEnroe made his feelings clear yesterday – he thinks Murray has a good shot this year – while Kevin Anderson, the man Murray beat in the Queen’s final on Sunday, thinks the Scot is definitely a favourite for the title.
If he (Murray) can meet Djokovic in the final, we could have a Wimbledon champion againGreg Rusedski
“The way he was playing, the way he was moving, serving,” Anderson sighed, “he’s come off a terrific clay court season, which in the past has been his weaker surface and had great success there. So, you have to look at him as one of the favourites this year.”
Lleyton Hewitt, the champion of 2002 who will make his farewell to Wimbledon this year, is putting his faith in Murray and Roger Federer, a dream double if he were a betting man.
“Novak’s obviously great on everything but I think Andy and Roger are the two that stand out with the surface.” Hewitt said. “Andy’s playing really well at the moment – as well as I’ve seen him play in a couple of years. With his movement, I think the surface suits his game – him and Federer the most.”
As for Greg Rusedski, he has been enthusing about Murray’s chances since the start of the French Open. The one, huge obstacle in the Scot’s path is Djokovic, but Rusedski believes that Murray is getting closer to the world No 1.
“If he can meet Djokovic in the final, then we possibly could have a Wimbledon champion again,” Rusedski said. “He’s lost the last eight times to Novak. He lost to him in five sets, obviously at the French Open in the semis. He lost to him in the finals of the Australian Open in four sets, so every time he plays him – he’s getting closer and closer and I think Andy’s best surface is probably the grass.”
The seedings were announced yesterday with few changes to the usual pecking order. Djokovic and Roger Federer are seeded one and two with Murray is third place. In the top ten, only Milos Raonic and David Ferrer have swapped places with Raonic moving up from a ranking of No 8 to the No 7 seeding, while further down the list Nick Kyrgios is one of the biggest winners. Last year’s quarter-finalist in SW19 is ranked No 29 but he is now the No 26 seed. But Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay is the biggest loser, dropping down five places to become the No 28 seed.
It means that Murray will, if the seedings go according to plan, have to play either Djokovic or Federer in the semi-finals and then the other one in the final. It all depends on which side of the draw Murray finds himself – and that will be decided tomorrow morning.
The one loose cannon in this is Rafael Nadal. Injury and illness wrecked the second half of last year for the Spaniard while a miserable run of form had made a mess of this season. As a result, his ranking has slipped to No 10 and with no grass court form to speak of in the past two years, his seeding is stuck at No 10, too.
Any one of the top four could have to face Nadal in the quarter-finals and for all that he is far from his best at the moment, he is a two-time former Wimbledon champion and just a couple of weeks ago he won the trophy in Stuttgart. More importantly, he is physically fit for the challenges of the slick, green courts this year. According to his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, that has not been the case for many a year.
“This year Rafael can play better on grass because after 2011 he had many problems with his knees,” Toni said. “It was very difficult for him to play on grass because he couldn’t get down with his legs, but now he can. He needs a little more confidence and with some luck he can do a good tournament. For me, Wimbledon is a good possibility to show a good Rafael.
“But he will arrive at Wimbledon without a Grand Slam title for the first time in ten or 11 years so the confidence is not the same. When you have confidence, you hit the ball and the ball goes on the line. When you don’t have confidence, you hit the ball and it doesn’t go on the line. Confidence always comes with victories. Nothing else. We have to practise and get a little more consistency in his game. In Stuttgart the serve was good, the movement was better, he made good shots. We need to do this for three or four hours. He is playing better now.”
He may be playing better but whether he has it in him to beat either Murray or Djokovic remains to be seen. In the meantime, the good and the great are backing Murray for a second Wimbledon