THERE are lies, damned lies and statistics. Unfortunately, professional sport is governed by statistics, the gold standard by which every achievement, decision and result is judged, and sometimes those stats make uncomfortable reading.
So, for all those who lined up to criticise Amélie Mauresmo last year, it is probably best they avert their gaze now: in his first year with Mauresmo, Andy Murray has won 68 matches and lost 15. In the first year of the glory, glory days with Ivan Lendl, Murray won 56 matches and lost 16. In that first year with Lendl, he won three titles; in his first with Mauresmo, he has won five. Murray has done better under Mauresmo than under Lendl, then. QED.
“I’m starting to get more wins against higher-ranked players”Andy Murray
Of course, there are always caveats and clarifications to be added to any list of bald statistics. Those first three titles under Lendl included the US Open and the Olympic gold medal; the most impressive trophy under Mauresmo is the Madrid Masters 1000 – the others are two 250 level titles and two 500 level cups.
Even so, the numbers support Murray’s ongoing argument that he was not only right to choose Mauresmo as his coach, it was an inspired decision. As he is now in his 17th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final – and if he beats David Ferrer today, he will match his best result at the French Open – he has every right to feel that he and Mauresmo have been harshly treated.
When he announced Mauresmo’s appointment last summer, Virginia Wade and Fred Stolle both thought the news was a joke. Marinko Matosevic, Australia’s maverick and world No 100, said he would never hire a female coach, simple as that.
Then, at the end of the year, after Murray was flattened 6-0, 6-1 by Roger Federer at the ATP finals in London, the critics lined up to have a pop. Tim Henman claimed Murray had “not been playing the right way”; Greg Rusedski accused Murray of reverting to his old, defensive ways; John McEnroe was scathing about the Murray-Mauresmo partnership saying, “I would not call it a roaring success.”
“People are only going to say that my relationship or the work that I’ve done with Amélie will be a success only if I win Grand Slams,” Murray said. “That’s what people will judge it on, obviously, as has always been the case with me throughout my career. But my results have been good. I’m starting to get more wins against higher-ranked players and top players which is something that last year I wasn’t doing. Hopefully, it keeps going that way. But it does show that the stuff that was getting said about her at the end of last year was completely unfair and unacceptable.”
Just a couple of years ago, few would have given Murray much of a chance at Roland Garros. Today, as he faces Ferrer, a man he has never beaten on clay, the bookies have Murray as the favourite to reach the semi-finals and several pundits have him a second favourite for the title (Novak Djokovic is the overwhelming, odds-on bet).
Ferrer cruised into the last eight with a simple 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 thrashing of Marin Cilic on Monday. Clay is the Spaniard’s favourite surface and half of his 24 career titles have been won on the stuff. He is fit, he is fast and he will do his utmost to make Murray run around at the back of the court like a demented whippet.
“It is a lot of running if you allow him to dictate the points,” Murray said. “Something I feel like I’ve done a better job of on the clay this year is not playing so defensively. When I have had to defend, I’ve moved a lot better so when I’ve had the chance, I have stepped into the court and dictated the points. But because David’s not as hard a hitter as somebody like Chardy, you have the opportunity to dictate the points as well.”
Murray leads their career rivalry 9-6 but on clay, he trails 4-0. Their last meeting on the red brick dust was in Paris three years ago with Ferrer winning in four sets. But in those intervening three years, Murray has learned the art of winning Grand Slam titles, he has reinvented himself as a clay court player and he is playing without the excruciating back pain that forced him to have surgery two years ago. Even if clay is the most gruelling of surfaces, Murray is feeling good as he approaches a potential marathon with Ferrer.
“Obviously, you never know until you’re in that situation but I’m pretty comfortable,” he said. “In comparison to the preparation that I’d had coming to the French Open the last few years where I’d played some pretty long matches, I wasn’t really able to train as I would have liked because of the problems I had with my back, this year I was actually able to train better. I played way more matches so I should be pretty confident that I’ll be able to last just now.”
If he does last the course today, he will improve his stats under Mauresmo and make his critics look even more foolish.