TENNIS legend Rod Laver believes Andy Murray, Britain’s first Wimbledon champion for 77 years, will continue to rewrite the game’s history books by the time he eventually hangs up his racquet.
Laver, 74, the only male player to twice win the calendar grand slam of all four majors in the same year – in 1962 and 1969 – was in attendance on Wimbledon’s Centre Court last Sunday to witness Murray becoming the first male British player to win the greatest prize in tennis since Fred Perry nearly eight decades ago.
Reflecting on Murray’s straight sets victory over world No 1 Novak Djokovic, Laver believes only a lack of self-belief can hold Murray back from winning a string of slams to add to his US Open and Wimbledon crowns.
“A few years ago when I watched Murray losing in Grand Slam finals, I never doubted he had the ability to beat the world’s best players – Roger Federer Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic – in big matches, but my one reservation about Murray was his lack of self belief and his failure to play enough ‘kill’ shots when he was on top,” Laver told The Scotsman from his home in Carlsbad, California.
“I now believe Murray has proved he does have both the self-belief and the aggression needed to beat anybody. He’s also shown that he knows how to handle the pressure on crucial points because he’s a smarter player than before when he seemed to find ways to lose finals he should have won as his form went up and down like a yo-yo. The difference with Murray is that now he’s got two majors to his name, including the big one, Wimbledon, so that should give him the confidence to go on and win more grand-slam tournaments.
“I would be very surprised if he didn’t,” Laver added.
Australia’s greatest ever male tennis player, nicknamed The Rockhampton Rocket, also suggested that Murray could follow in his illustrious footsteps by winning all four majors – Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and The US Open – in the same calendar year.
“I think we need to wait to see if Andy wins a few more majors first, but if he does that then it’s possible he could win a calendar grand slam,” Laver explained.
“The most difficult of the four majors for him to win is probably the French Open, but he’s got the game to win on clay as he proved by reaching the semi-final in 2011. Rafael Nadal has been virtually unbeatable in The French Open as his record of eight wins in nine years suggests, but equally his knees must be a big concern. I don’t believe they will hold up forever and there’s every indication that he’s struggling to maintain his fitness so who knows what Andy could achieve if he keeps playing like he did at Wimbledon?”
Laver, who won 11 grand slam titles overall before retiring in the 1970s, expects Murray to eventually assume Djokovic’s mantel as the world’s top ranked men’s but warns the Dunblane player against complacency; particularly away from the mania that grips the nation during Wimbledon.
“One of the big positives about Murray is his fitness,” Laver said. “If he can stay fit, then I would expect him to take over as world No 1 in the foreseeable future, but it won’t be easy. There are a lot of good players around in the men’s draw, including [Roger] Federer and Nadal, and Murray can’t carry the fanatical support he gets at Wimbledon around with him. Having the crowd on his side like he does at Wimbledon every year must give him an enormous lift, but it’s not like that at other tournaments where he still has to rise to the occasion.”
Looking back on his own career in the pre and post open era of men’s tennis, Laver insists that wooden rackets were a distinct disadvantage which made the game a tougher proposition to master when he was world No 1.
“Modern racket technology has definitely made the game easier,” he said.
“If Roger, Federer, [Rafael] Nadal, [Novak] Djokovic, and [Andy] Murray, were playing with wooden racquets, they couldn’t play some of the shots they can execute now. That’s why comparing players of different eras and claiming particular players as the greatest of all time is a pointless exercise. All you can really say is that certain players were the greatest of their era and I would put Roger in that category.
“Not only has Roger won more Grand Slam titles than anyone else, 17, but he’s also been a great sportsman. He’s good enough to win a few more tournaments before he retires.”