Wimbledon: Big guns stand in way of Andy Murray

Andy Murray, watched by Amelie Mauresmo, during a practice at Wimbledon. Picture: Getty
Andy Murray, watched by Amelie Mauresmo, during a practice at Wimbledon. Picture: Getty
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Tough Wimbledon draw means Scot could have to beat Nadal, Federer and Djokovic if he is to claim his second SW19 crown

So, it is Andy Murray who has picked the short straw. It is the Scot who has found himself in Rafael Nadal’s quarter of the Wimbledon draw and it is he who must, in theory, play Nadal in the quarter-finals, Roger Federer in the semi-finals and Novak Djokovic in the final if he is to win a second title at the All England Club. Clearly, being a member of the place does you no favours.

Andy Murray with coaches Jonas Bjorkman Amelie Mauresmo. Picture: Getty

Andy Murray with coaches Jonas Bjorkman Amelie Mauresmo. Picture: Getty

When the draw was made yesterday, the big question was where Nadal would be placed. Ranked No 10 in the world, not only would the Spaniard not be offered the protection of a high seeding which, in turn, would mean he would not face one of the big names until the latter stages of the competition – it meant the big guns would not be protected from him, either.

Still, draws, like all carefully worked schemes, seldom go according to plan. All Murray knows for sure is that he will face Mikhail Kukushkin on Tuesday afternoon. The 27-year-old Kazakh is ranked No 58 in the world and, after a run to the Sydney final in January, he has lost in the first round of ten tournaments this season.

The first seed Murray is scheduled to meet is Andreas Seppi, known as Andy to his pals. The Italian warmed up for Wimbledon by reaching the Halle final last weekend – and losing to Federer. Should he come through that skirmish, the huge Ivo Karlovic and his enormous serve could be waiting for him. Karlovic would have to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach the fourth round and that all depends on Tsonga’s health. The Frenchman pulled out of the Nottingham event this week due to an abdominal injury.

Nadal, meanwhile, will have to deal with the challenge of Viktor Troicki, the semi-finalist at Queen’s last week, in the third round and, potentially, his countryman David Ferrer in the fourth. Ferrer, seeded eight, is not the same force on grass as he is on other surfaces but he has reached two Wimbledon quarter-finals in his time. Nadal, then, will have his work cut out to gather some momentum if he is to have a tilt at the title.

Novak Djokovic after winning the Wimbledon final last year. Picture: Getty

Novak Djokovic after winning the Wimbledon final last year. Picture: Getty

Federer, meanwhile, will be lurking in the bottom quarter of the draw and ought to be waiting for Murray in the last four if he can pick a path past Jack Sock in the third round, Roberto Bautista Agut or Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round and Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.

And all of this would merely earn the survivor the right to play Novak Djokovic in the final. If Djokovic can get there, that is. The world No 1 and top seed has the draw from hell, beginning against Philipp Kohlschreiber, with Bernard Tomic, Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic or John Isner, Kei Nishikori and either Stan Wawrinka or Milos Raonic blocking his route thereafter.

Every year before Wimbledon begins, there is debate about the changing of the guard. The Big Four are getting older and the young guns are ready to make their moves. Last year it was Grigor Dimitrov, then the champion of Queen’s, who was the new boy with big hopes until he ran into Djokovic and lost in four sets. When it gets to the sharp end of big tournament, the Big Four – Messrs Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal – are still determined to stay in charge.

“I think at different stages, people wanted to write [us off],” Murray said speaking at a launch of his new Under Armour Wimbledon kit, “apart from Novak; he hasn’t really had any injuries or dips in form. Obviously Roger for a while [did], like the year he lost to Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, and when the US Open was over for him as well; Rafa, just now, a lot of people are saying he isn’t the same and he is not going to come back. I had the same thing last year as well. I think there are more guys who can win now, for sure. I think it’s definitely a lot more open than it was. But I don’t think that any one of the guys you mention are close to being done at the top level.”

The one newcomer to the winner’s enclosure is Stan Wawrinka. He proved that he was not a one slam wonder by overwhelming Djokovic at Roland Garros three weeks ago and adding the Coupe des Mousquetaires to his 2014 Australian Open trophy. Murray thinks that that French Open victory may just have opened up a few doors for the rest of the men in the locker room.

“I think maybe psychologically for the Tour it was important,” Murray said. “I remember in Rome earlier in the year, they had a players’ draw outside the locker room and, before the tournament had even started, someone had just written Djokovic’s name in the winner’s space. I think that obviously a lot of players were thinking that way. Stan winning in the final was a huge upset but also showed in those matches that Novak can be beaten. Granted, Stan played an incredible match, but it can be done.”

Murray knows all too well that the world No 1 can be beaten – he has done it twice on a grass court: in the London 2012 semi-final and in the 2013 Wimbledon final. Since then, though, it has been one-way traffic between them – Djokovic has won eight times in a row. When he traipsed out of Melbourne Park in January, beaten by the Serb in the final, he said that being happy was more important than winning tennis matches. Given that he looked as miserable as sin and he had just lost, the words sounded hollow but now that he is physically fitter than ever, he is happy in every department of his life and he is playing better than at any point in his career, he seems to have got the balance just right.

“When I won Wimbledon, obviously it was great and that does make you happy,” he said. “But a lot of the time I was playing I was in pain. So I wasn’t actually enjoying practising. I wasn’t hating tennis, and I don’t know if resentful is the right word but, when I stepped on the court, it was causing me pain – and I wasn’t actually enjoying that.

“Now, I love practising, love going in the gym, love training hard. For a while when I was having problems with my back, I wasn’t enjoying it. Also I was just getting a better perspective on things: that tennis isn’t the only thing. You don’t have to win every single week – because, if you go in with that mindset, you’re never happy. If you expect to win every week then, when you do win, well, that’s what you expected. Whereas, if you just lower the expectations a little bit, it makes you enjoy the game a bit more.”

SEVEN THINGS

... you didn’t know about Andy Murray’s first-round opponent, Mikhail Kukushkin

1 Kukushkin has been coached by his wife, Anastasia, since May 2009, with the pair marrying in November 2011.

2 The Kazakhstan star took up tennis aged six and was coached by his father, Alexander, until the age of 17.

3 Born in Volgograd, Russia, Kukshkin moved to Kazakhstan in 2008.

4 The world No 58 lost to Rafael Nadal in four sets in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2014, his best year at SW19 so far.

5 He won his only ATP Tour title by beating Mikhail Youzhny at the St Petersburg Open in 2010.

6 The Kazakh player heads into Wimbledon having won just one of his last six matches.

7 Kukushkin has featured in 14 Davis Cup ties for Kazakhstan since 2008.