Andy Murray will be playing at the Australian Open with Ivan Lendl in his corner. Two of Murray’s former coaches, Brad Gilbert and Mark Petchey, assess what the Scot has to do to become Britain’s first male grand slam singles champion for 76 years. Gilbert argues that Murray should take inspiration from some of the recent female grand slam champions – Li Na, Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur – while Petchey suggests a few technical improvements.
“I can guarantee you, no one wants to win a major more than Andy does. Maybe Andy could take some inspiration from some of the women who have made the breakthrough at a later stage in their careers – Li Na, Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur. But it’s not as if the men’s game is wide open like the women’s. Between them, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won the last seven majors. Shoot, Andy has been close, he’s got within three sets of winning a major. Last season, he made the final of the Aussie Open and the semi-finals of the the other three majors, but it’s just about making it happen and getting over the line. Andy has beaten Nadal at smaller tournaments, and he has beaten him at the majors too, but he lost to him in three semi-finals at the majors last season.
“He has to make that happen against the best players at the majors. And with the best players so consistent now, Andy’s probably going to have to beat two of his biggest rivals if he is to win a major. It’s not going to be easy for Andy. I don’t think Djokovic’s 2012 is going to be quite as great as his 2011 – he’s not going to duplicate that – but he’s going to be playing good. And, Roger Federer, he’s defying his age with the tennis he is playing, and Nadal is going to feel as though he has a lot to prove. Del Potro is going to play better in 2012, and then there’s Tsonga.”
“What does Murray have to do to win a slam? I think he’s pretty much on the right track. I think his second serve, when he’s playing against the very best, that’s an area they can attack. He’s got the potential to hit the spots on his second serve a bit better than he currently does. Against the very best, he could set himself up in the points a bit better with his second serve. At times last season, we saw him taking the ball a bit more on his forehand side. I think he’s pretty much there or thereabouts with getting that right. And then it comes down to getting that right on the day. If you look back at the history of the sport, and see how many people have won their first major after the age of 25, that’s maybe because they’ve not done it early on enough in their careers, and therefore that pressure is immense as you get older. No matter how strong you are, you still have to think about that.
“So the longer he goes without winning a first major, the harder it is going to be to do that. I’ve always said that he will win one, and I stand by that. It’s a very tough era. You have to take your opportunities when they come, but he’s obviously unfortunate that he’s playing at the same time as Federer and Nadal, two of the greatest players of all time, and Djokovic last year had one of the greatest seasons of all time. You are asking a lot for him to win a slam, and you wouldn’t say that he has missed an opportunity that was there for the taking. He has been beaten by those guys. That’s his challenge, to get past them, and it’s going to be all the more sweeter when he does it.
“If he wins one, it would obviously help him in his pursuit of more slams. It can’t be a negative. Andy is very talented, but you have to recognise that there are a lot of other talented, hungry, determined, ambitious alpha males on the men’s tour. It’s not just about Andy. These other guys can effect your performance, and that’s the beautiful thing about tennis. That’s why, at the top of the game, strategy is so important. So, even if Andy wins one, that doesn’t mean that there are going to be a glut of majors.”
Brad Gilbert will be working for ESPN during the Australian Open.