DCSIMG

Australian Open: US Open took weight off Andy Murray

Fan favourite: Andy Murray signs autographs for fans after his semi-final. Picture: AP

Fan favourite: Andy Murray signs autographs for fans after his semi-final. Picture: AP

  • by FRANK MALLEY
 

THE legacy of London was there for all to see as Andy Murray scrapped his way into the final of the Australian Open.

There is no doubt about it, the Olympics and the gold medal won by destroying Roger Federer in straight sets on Wimbledon’s Centre Court has transformed Murray into a champion. A champion who now looks determined to take his place alongside the tennis greats who have won multiple Grand Slams.

That was the overriding sense of anticipation after Murray had defeated Federer once more, for the first time in a grand slam, this time in five punishing sets over four hours, to earn a crack at Novak Djokovic in tomorrow’s final.

Victory would make it two grand slams in a row for Murray, following his five-set epic against Djokovic at the US Open in September.

From there all things could be possible, such is the power of momentum where sport is concerned. It is clear that first triumph, the first by a British male since Fred Perry in 1936, has taken the weight of history off Murray’s shoulders.

Murray has grown up, physically and mentally. There is no fitter player on the tennis tour, some feat considering the injuries he suffered in his early days and the fitness problems which included vomiting on court during a five-set match against Andrei Pavel in 2005 at the US Open.

It is the mental maturity, however, which is the key and which was so apparent at Melbourne Park in a match which was always in the control of the 25-year-old Scot.

It was Federer, normally serene and the winner of 17 grand slams, who looked frustrated and riddled with angst. It was Murray who was a study in composure and solidity. Why, Murray even smiled, broadly and warmly, when a linesman made a wrong call on a forehand which clipped the line.

That is the measure of the transformation Murray’s coach Ivan Lendl has affected on a player who used to waste so much energy on the peripheries of the game. Confidence. Conviction. A feeling that the world is with Murray rather than against him. Funny how the big points start going for you when you adopt such a positive demeanour. There is also the little matter of developing talent. The Murray return is sublime. His first 
serve is no longer predictable as it pounds down at more than 130mph. The second serve, once thought to bar his route to greatness, is much improved.

And there is no tougher player on the planet, bar perhaps Djokovic, when it comes to stubbornness to win every rally of every game. In short, Murray looks and plays like a champion of whom Great Britain should be proud.

An all-court, shot-making champion of character, one who has sacked coaches in a relentless bid to improve, all the time consistently answering the doubters and the critics.

A champion, it is true, who throws in the odd lapse of concentration as he did against Federer in the fourth set, but one who invariably finds a way to win. He will need to find something a bit special on Sunday against Djokovic, the world No 1, if only because while Murray and Federer were expending vast amounts of energy in their semi-final, the Serbian was relaxing with his feet up having trounced David Ferrer 24 hours before.

The signs, however, are that this is Murray’s time. Federer, so imperious for so long, is on the wane, Rafael Nadal continues to struggle with dodgy knees. That leaves Djokovic, a formidable opponent capable of brutal brilliance and defensive excellence who is steadily climbing the ladder of the greats.

“I’ll need to be ready for the pain,” was how Murray saw what is likely to be another protracted battle.

So he will, but while Djokovic starts as favourite, he does not possess the artistry of Murray.

It is why Britain, after such a momentous 2012, could be saluting another golden moment in sport tomorrow.

 

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