WHEN a journalist asked Andy Murray on Friday night whether he thought it might now be difficult for him to “get into” the Davis Cup later this week, given the scale of disappointment he had just suffered, it drew a rare moment of levity in an otherwise fairly cheerless press conference.
“You’re French, so you’re hoping that’s the case,” said Murray, a smile briefly coaxed from his downcast features, with the clash with France now just six days away. The question was a valid one though: How does he recover from the crushing setback of Friday?
How does he get himself back up for the fight? Not specifically for the up-coming Davis Cup clash at Queen’s Club, which as Murray stressed, will take care of itself.
But how does he process the thought that while he played almost as well as he could, he was still unable to negotiate a way past his old foe Roger Federer. Old being the operative word. It is now two years since Murray lifted his most recent of two Grand Slam titles in this, his supposed prime.
As well as acknowledging that no one, not even probably Novak Djokovic, could have lived with Federer in the form he was in on Friday, perhaps Murray can also take comfort from the Swiss man’s longevity. It is now possible to excel well into your thirties. Federer turns 34 next month. If he wins today against Djokovic he will become the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the modern era.
But, at 28, the clock is beginning to tick for Murray if he wishes to add more titles to the two he has won, the first at the US Open in 2012 and the second at Wimbledon two years ago last Sunday.
At every one of Murray’s eight Grand Slam finals he has faced either Federer or Djokovic on the other side of the net. Ten of his 17 semi-finals have been against one of tennis’s holy trinity of Djokovic, Federer and Rafa Nadal.
But, while Nadal’s powers might now be on the wane due – as much to injury as anything else – Djokovic is going to be around for a while yet. And, as for Federer, who can say? Murray might hope to have shaken him off by now. Just when he was relishing the thought Federer may be slowing down in his twilight years, the Swiss comes up with a match he himself rated as one of the greatest performances of his career.
Murray, too, has applauded Federer, comparing him first to Lionel Messi because of the way he makes things look so easy, and then later to FC Barcelona, because he is still excelling despite the so-called experts’ belief that his period of dominance is over. To be fair to the doubters, Federer has still not won a grand slam title since 2012, when – you guessed it – he overcame Murray on Centre Court. Indeed, Federer has won only one in the past five years.
But, like Barcelona, he continues to confound. Like Barcelona, he has what it takes to remain at the top, and by playing in a way that beguiles the spectators.
Sir Alex Ferguson, regarded as one of the greatest football managers of all time, had his ambitions of winning a third Champions League title with Manchester United curtailed by Barcelona, whom he accepted had been by far the better team in the 2011 final at Wembley.
Because Ferguson had been in attendance on Centre Court on Friday, this was put to Murray – sometimes you have to hold up your hands and admire such sporting greatness.
“When I come off the court and I haven’t played well I feel terrible afterwards,” said Murray. “You feel you’ve let yourself down, your team down and everyone who supports you. But I tried my best and I played well.
“Unfortunately, Roger played unbelievably well and there wasn’t much I could do. He was just unbelievable.
“But, yes, if you want to compare Roger to Barcelona then you can, especially on this surface [grass] and with what he’s done here because I really don’t think you will see anything like him again. Not for a very, very long time.”
Fortunately, Switzerland, the defending champions, have already been eliminated from the Davis Cup. So there was no danger of Murray being handed a quick reunion with Federer, whose path he isn’t likely to cross until the start of the hard court season in north America next month. Instead, Murray has to re-train his sights on beating the French.
He is comforted by the thought he is part of a team which includes his brother Jamie. He knows he can count on their support in these difficult times. “That’s the nicest thing about the Davis Cup – being in a team and around the guys,” he said. “All of us get on very well together and we’ve had some unbelievable weeks together. Hopefully, this will be another one.”
But the pain of another Wimbledon having slipped through his grasp, after last year’s defence ended in the quarter-finals, will be hard to banish. It is not as if the venue for the Davis Cup meet provides him with some distance – Queen’s Club is about six miles from Wimbledon, as the crow flies. The regrets will linger, even if there is consolation in knowing that, while Murray might have benefited from an easier than anticipated passage through to the last four, he was handed a nigh-on impossible challenge in the semi-final.
“I feel like this is my best chance to win a Grand Slam,” said Murray, of Wimbledon. “I feel like it’s my best surface. I played consistently well here throughout my career. So it’s tough in that respect. I mean, all losses hurt, especially in the major events. But, yeah, here is always tough.”
His Davis Cup commitments will stir his competitive juices. They will stop him sitting at home stewing about a semi-final defeat, the hurt from which he cannot hide.
But he has to move on. Murray, depending on fitness, will feature first in the singles on Friday. “The match itself won’t be hard,” he said. “It’s more making sure that I do the right stuff over the next week really, because the next few days are tough. When I’ve lost in slams in the past, it’s always the same a few days afterwards. I do find it hard. The next few days won’t be so easy.”