Even before the dust had settled on Centre Court’s worn out baseline after Andy Murray’s historic Olympic victory, speculation began on his chances at the U.S. Open coming up later this month. But perhaps it’s best for the tennis world to savor and spend at least few minutes reflecting on Murray’s milestone win as we enter the summer hard court season.
Murray’s gold medal moment may have surprised some tennis fans, but if they’ve been paying any attention to him during this season, they would realize that this “breakthrough win” that some are calling it was actually a perfect ending to a new chapter in Murray’s career that was put into motion at the start of 2012 when Murray began his partnership with Ivan Lendl whose mixture of tough love and iron will was viewed by many to be exactly what the British No. 1 needed in order to catch up to the “big three” in Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Murray’s new coaching arrangement bore fruit early with Murray pushing eventual Melbourne champion Djokovic to five sets in their semifinal. That losing effort, inspiring though bittersweet, appeared to galvanize Murray’s ever hopeful yet often despondent fans that he was indeed closing the gap. Yet those same fans had to endure a series of giddy highs and disturbing lows that were part of Murray’s transformation including an early exit at Indian Wells followed by a run to the Miami finals backed up by a decent record on red clay that was followed by an inexplicable first round loss at Queen’s Club at the start of the grass court season.
It was only during Wimbledon that Murray, fueled by fervent home country support and that still unexplained gesture that he made to the heavens after each win, looked like he finally belonged with the elite trio especially the likes of Federer who always dominated him in their previous Grand Slam finals. Federer got the better of Murray again to win his seventh Wimbledon title, but there was no mistake that Murray had yet made another step over the chasm. The final steps were taken at the Olympics when he first dismissed Djokovic, who seemed destined to always overshadow his friend, in the semis to his final bravura performance in the gold medal match against Federer.
Murray may indeed have Lendl to thank for quite a bit of his success including his ability to be aggressive and remain that way throughout a match, but it’s Murray’s newfound belief in himself that he can beat the very best on the biggest stages that may end up becoming more valuable to him than the precious gold medal he just won. Murray, despite all his fitness regimes, innate speed and rock-steady groundstrokes has often appeared to lack a certain mental fortitude when it came down to the big moments, as if when push came to shove he didn’t really want to win no matter what he said in his press conferences. That’s no longer the case as he certainly proved that he could play his very best in, let’s face it, the biggest tennis match of his life.
Despite his golden achievement, Murray still has work to do when it comes to winning a Major and he’ll get his first test in New York where he goes in as a slight favorite. While his fans may be expecting him to now come out and win everything in sight, it could be that Murray will have to take some time to get used to his success, much in the same way he’s spent longer than expected absorbing, processing and then moving on from his more painful losses. Unlike most other Olympic sports, tennis doesn’t allow much time for reflection as there’s always another week with yet another tournament that beckons and with expectations even higher now for him, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a few more peaks and valleys in terms of results this year before Murray settles into his new status as part of the “big four”, a membership that he now fully deserves.
After years of being touted as the next greatest “this” or the soon to be “that”, Murray’s transformation both physically and now mentally into becoming a champion at the highest levels has taken longer than his fans or even he may have liked. That prolonged chapter in his career, filled with so many almosts, has now ended with a fitting climax that even some of the great writers of the fair isle of Britain couldn’t even have imagined. After his self-admitted greatest triumph we, along with Murray, will now turn the page and wait to discover what’s next for the man who truly became golden this summer.