Monday, 17 October 2011

What Andy Murray’s Win in Shanghai does (or doesn’t) mean.

There’s three camps with regards to Murray’s clean sweep of the Asian swing:

1) The overtly hostile: “Whatever. Fed and Djoko were absent, and besides, Grand Slams (preferably more than one of them), in case you missed it, trump the #3 ranking…”

2) The easy to please: “OMG…3 BACK-TO-BACK WINS!! AND DISPOSSESSING FED OF THE #3 RANKING!! I THINK I JUST WET MYSELF, BUT IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT…” (I really doubt Federer cares very much)

3) Neither (or some of both) of the above.


The third category is interesting. Not only because I’m a member (duh), but because of its diverse composition: we’re talking, not simply of blinkered Andy fans (though there are those too), not just of those preoccupied with undercutting everything he does because he hasn’t won a Slam (plenty of those too), but also the so-called ‘silent majority’ that simply don’t give a crap one way or the other, but know good tennis when they see it.

For my part – spoken as a fan – I just can’t see the point of him winning these titles anymore. They may even be hindering him.

Quite apart from the “Slamless” derision it’ll inevitably provoke, and quite apart from what the #3 ranking may or may not represent, we already know he’s capable of winning at this level with Fed, Rafa and Nole in the draw  should he not be expected to win when neither is around?

An eighth Masters title is less an indication of “where he’s at” than it is a confirmation of the status quo that's existed for a few years: a frustrating hinterland  situated in between beating those big three in the second week of a Slam on the one hand (not nearly enough of this), and dominating the rest of the tour on the other (more than enough of this).

Murray owns that zone like no other – he’s practically Mayor of it. It’s where he’s been since he went on that tear at the end of 2008 and it’s where he is now.

It’s not quite a “no-man’s land” (Daveed still has no Masters titles to his name and up until a few weeks ago Janko had no titles at all), though it may as well be if (perish the thought) he isn’t destined to move on to bigger and better things.

The Slamless derision will exist no matter what – when, and if, he actually wins one, he’ll be duly promoted to a “one Slam wonder”.


And whilst it’s ridiculous to pretend the #3 ranking means nothing at all (at the very least it indicates reaching 4 Slam SFs might, you know, be a good thing) – it’s equally ridiculous to carry on as if we’ve not been here before. Consider yourself a Murray fan? Well stop selling him (and yourself ) so short.

There’s those that will argue (as they always do) that its necessary to acquire “momentum” and that “winning begets winning”. No it isn’t, and no it doesn’t. Not always.

Juan Martin Del Potro went through both Rafa AND Fed to win the USO, yet still hasn’t a single Masters title to his name. I’d say 8 Masters titles and 3 very long Slamless years in the top 4 render ‘momentum theory’ defunct  – the terms of reference have simply moved on.

Words like “momentum” should, in any case, only ever feature in the discourse surrounding “upcoming” players and “nearly-men” like Marin Cilic and Daveed Ferrer. Murray is neither – he hasn’t been for many years.

By the same token (and whether we like it or not), beating Rafa in the final of a Slam trumps bagelling him (for the loss of only 4 points) in the final of Tokyo or anywhere else.

That’s not to say 3 back-to-back wins are to be taken lightly – at the very least it proves he hasn’t regressed. But it says little or nothing about the role “momentum” may play in his future – there’s almost a case, now, to say he could do with a little less.

Nor, as many are apt to,  should those wins be thought of as “stepping stones” to the Slams – some stepping stones merely lead to the bottom of a ditch.

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