Andy Murray was out of Flushing Meadows quicker than a New York cabbie running a red light on Thursday. Beaten in the quarter-finals of the US Open by Stan Wawrinka, he was tired, disappointed and mentally spent.
It had been a long, hard summer and it had come on the back of a long, hard year. As he started his US Open campaign, he had reached the final of the last four grand slam tournaments he had entered and won two of them and the Olympic gold medal. He had also ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a Wimbledon champion, surviving two weeks of unbearable pressure, the sort of pressure that no other player could even imagine.
And when it was over, Murray knew that, whatever else happened in his career, he was now a part of history. Never again would the phrase “Not since Fred Perry…” be used in British tennis. Now he had set the benchmark and until another bloke with talent and a racket comes along, British tennis will be defined by Murray’s achievements. That is an awful lot for a 26-year-old to take in, especially when he is the middle of his career and trying to plan for the future.
No wonder, then, that he struggled to find motivation in practice after Wimbledon or that he could not fire himself up in New York. It is not that he does not still have ambition – far from it – but he was just knackered, plain and simple. If the effort needed to get through the last 15 months has been exhausting, trying to comprehend just what he has achieved is mind-boggling.
John McEnroe has seen it all before and, as he assessed Murray’s performance over the past ten days, he was sympathetic to the Scot’s situation and certainly not concerned. In McEnroe’s view, there is plenty more to come from the world No 3 – he just needs a bit of time to rest and recover. “He is going to decide but I would take a month off,” McEnroe said. “He had it a lot tougher than I did and there was a lot more pressure. I felt like I was dealing with a lot of pressure when I played Wimbledon, some of it self-inflicted, but it was a lot more so for Andy.
“I think Andy was on such a high that inevitably you come down. After all those years trying to win Wimbledon, it was inevitable there would be a let-down. The question was how much? It is not easy to turn it on again pretty quickly. He has been pretty flat for the whole summer. I think it is just a mental thing and he is a little weary after all the effort.
“I would still look at it as an incredible year for him as he has done something for the first time in 77 years. It is amazing and that high is so high you just can’t grasp how big an achievement it was. He didn’t have that much time off where he could sit back and enjoy it, and he was almost straight back into training.
“He has been through a lot over the past ten years and he should take a break. He should take some time off and try to finish strong in London at the tour finals. Then he can start to get ready for the Australian Open. I certainly wouldn’t be too concerned about the next few months if I were him.”
Before Murray can get that much-needed rest, he has the Davis Cup in Croatia to deal with next week. There will be no let-up from the pressure, either, as the tie is a World Group play-off – the winners get their ticket to the elite group of the competition – and Murray is pencilled in for singles and doubles duty on the clay in Umag.
Darren Cahill, who coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to multiple grand slam victories, believes that, short of a holiday, a few days working with the rest of the Great Britain team could be just the tonic for Murray. It will be hard work but being in a team environment will be a complete change for the Scot – and a change is as good as a rest. “Davis Cup is next so he needs to go into that focused and make sure he’s around a bunch of team-mates who are supporting him,” Cahill said. “Andy will enjoy being in a team atmosphere when you play such an individual sport.
“All his life he’s been chasing the Wimbledon title and to live a day in his shoes and to understand the pressure he is under is a difficult thing to do. To accomplish that and then get straight back up for the next challenge is very tough.
“Time will be his best friend at the moment. He can reset his mind and his body and set some new challenges. He will come back even stronger.”
After the Davis Cup is done, Murray has the ATP World Tour Finals in London to work towards and, after that, he can rest. The coming year will give him four more opportunities to prove himself at the grand slams. He will not win all of them but he knows he has the ability and experience to win at any one of them.
As McEnroe pointed out: “The key for him is just trying to chip away and to win one a year would be amazing.”