Un­fash­ion­able Mur­ray look­ing good for world num­ber one

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

SHANG­HAI: Andy Mur­ray has never been the most fash­ion­able mem­ber of tennis’s ‘Big Four’, but he fi­nally looks the part as he ze­roes in on the world num­ber one spot.

Win­ning back-to-back ti­tles in China with­out drop­ping a set tells its own story, and un­der­lines the con­sen­sus that Mur­ray is cur­rently the world’s best player. The 29-year-old swept past Roberto Bautista to win his third Shang­hai Masters ti­tle on Sun­day, lift­ing his sixth tro­phy in what has been his best sea­son yet. It could get bet­ter for Mur­ray, who can over­take No­vak Djokovic at the top of the rank­ings with wins in Vi­enna and Paris, pro­vided the Serb doesn’t reach the Paris fi­nal.

It hasn’t done Mur­ray any harm that Djokovic has suf­fered a sud­den and per­plex­ing dip in form, and that Roger Fed­erer is side­lined by in­jury. Rafael Nadal is also a fad­ing force but Mur­ray would be a de­serv­ing suc­ces­sor as the last of the four, who have 46 Grand Slam ti­tles be­tween them, to reach num­ber one. What’s more, Mur­ray, of­ten marked out for his an­guished de­meanour on court, is grow­ing into the role of em­i­nent tour-leader in the mould of Djokovic and Fed­erer be­fore him.

The one-time gawky kid still be­rates him­self dur­ing matches but he is far more com­fort­able with the me­dia, giv­ing ful­some and in­tel­li­gent an­swers to all ques­tions. He is also pre­pared to de­fend and men­tor younger play­ers such as the way­ward Nick Kyr­gios, whose lat­est on-court melt­down re­sulted in a fine in Shang­hai. Phys­i­cally, too, Mur­ray is at his peak, with supreme fit­ness and ac­cel­er­a­tion that can shift his now-hulk­ing frame around the court at fright­en­ing speeds.

He has reached three Slam fi­nals this year, win­ning his sec­ond Wim­ble­don ti­tle and also be­com­ing the first man to suc­cess­fully de­fend Olympic sin­gles gold. Mur­ray hired Bri­tish coach Jamie Del­gado this year and Ivan Lendl’s re­turn to his team in June was quickly fol­lowed by vic­tory at Wim­ble­don. He hasn’t looked back since.

“Win­ning Wim­ble­don was re­ally a big boost to my con­fi­dence after I had had quite a few tough losses in the Slams the last few years,” he said. “That kind of gave me a lot more be­lief in my­self that I could win the ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions again. It helped mo­ti­vate me. “I have ob­vi­ously quite a dif­fer­ent team this year with Ivan and Jamie. Since the French Open, I’ve played the best three months of tennis of my ca­reer.”

Ob­sta­cles re­main and Mur­ray is wary of a re­turn to form by Djokovic, con­ser­va­tively pre­dict­ing that Fe­bru­ary or March rep­re­sent his best chance of reach­ing num­ber one. “I will try and fin­ish this year as strong as I can. And next year if the op­por­tu­nity is there to reach num­ber one, then I want to try and take it,” he said. “But it’s not go­ing to be easy be­cause No­vak plays great tennis in­doors, and also his record at the be­gin­ning of the year is phe­nom­e­nal in Aus­tralia and In­dian Wells, Mi­ami. “It’s go­ing to be a tough thing to achieve that. I’m aware of that. I’m close-ish right now, but it’s go­ing to be re­ally tough still.” It has been some jour­ney for Mur­ray, who sur­vived the 1996 Dun­blane school mas­sacre when he was eight and moved to Spain to fur­ther his tennis ca­reer when he was 15. But if he keeps his cur­rent tra­jec­tory, it won’t be long be­fore he be­comes Bri­tain’s first world num­ber one un­der the ATP’s com­put­erised rank­ings, which were in­tro­duced in 1973. “I have never had suc­cess like I have had the last few months in my ca­reer, so to keep that go­ing, I’m aware it’s go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult thing to do,” he warned.

“I need to keep my­self mo­ti­vated and be smart with my sched­ule and my time off, as well. But I be­lieve I can get there. I def­i­nitely be­lieve I can get there. “These last few months have proved that to me.”

—AFP

SHANG­HAI: This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 16, 2016 shows Andy Mur­ray of Bri­tain cel­e­brat­ing after win­ning his men’s sin­gles fi­nals match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain at the Shang­hai Masters tennis tour­na­ment in Shang­hai. Andy Mur­ray has never been the most fash­ion­able mem­ber of tennis’s ‘Big Four’, but he fi­nally looks the part as he ze­roes in on world num­ber one.

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