Ten­nis’ 4th Bea­tle, Mur­ray is paragon of for­ti­tude

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Jay Mon­a­han

For each top ath­lete, a word. For Usain Bolt, it would have to be speed. For foot­ball’s Lionel Messi: bal­ance. For swim­mer Michael Phelps: buoy­ant. But for the new king of men’s ten­nis, Andy Mur­ray, a qual­ity both men­tal and phys­i­cal springs to mind: for­ti­tude.

Mea­nies would ar­gue that Mur­ray has taken over the No.1 rank­ing this week - the first Bri­ton to reach the sum­mit - only be­cause the three play­ers who were bet­ter than him for so long fi­nally va­cated it, a ten­nis equiv­a­lent of John, Paul and George giv­ing Ringo a rare turn at the mic. And there is a mod­icum of truth in that.

Roger Fed­erer, the 17-time ma­jor cham­pion who this week dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2002, long had the mea­sure of Mur­ray, beat­ing him in three Grand Slam fi­nals, but is now a largely spent force at age 35.

Rafael Nadal’s creaky body is pay­ing the bill for his brand of ni­tro-power ten­nis that won him 14 ma­jor ti­tles and the top rank­ing for a to­tal of 141 weeks to July 2014. The 30-year-old hasn’t won a ma­jor since then, or even made a semi­fi­nal, and has had in­juries to both wrists. But his ca­reer Grand Slam record against Mur­ray is un­equiv­o­cal: seven wins in nine en­coun­ters, with the last de­feat way back at the 2010 Aus­tralian Open.

And the top dog Mur­ray top­pled, the now sec­ond-ranked No­vak Djokovic, won five of his 12 ma­jor ti­tles by beat­ing the Scot in the fi­nal. If Djokovic can now re­group, re­think and re-mo­ti­vate him­self with new tar­gets hav­ing com­pleted his ca­reer Grand Slam this year and then suf­fer­ing a dip, leav­ing the door ajar for Mur­ray, then the reign of the new No. 1 could be short.

The top rank­ing, then, doesn’t change the fact that Mur­ray is still “only,” a word that seems un­char­i­ta­ble in the cir­cum­stances, the fourth-best player in what has been mod­ern ten­nis’ tough­est era. But Mur­ray may well be the most stub­born, the era’s paragon of per­se­ver­ance. Be­ing the fourth mem­ber of the Big Four for so long could have bro­ken play­ers with less heart. He first got to the No. 2 rank­ing more than seven years ago and spent a to­tal of 76 weeks there. That’s a long time to be wait­ing in the wings.

But, in the end, Mur­ray out­lasted all­com­ers. He is the sailor who sol­diered through storms that chased oth­ers back to har­bor, the boxer re­peat­edly floored but never knocked out. He used the beat­ings he suf­fered from Fed­erer, Nadal and Djokovic - los­ing 20 of the 25 times he played them at the ma­jors - as rea­sons to keep im­prov­ing him­self. —AP

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