Five thoughts about Andy Murray, the 25-year-old with a bad back “who was moving like he was 85″.
There’s little comfort in being called ‘Braveheart’ if you never get to be introduced as ‘grand slam champion’. With Murray just starting out on what could be the busiest summer of his career – Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the US Open are still to come – wouldn’t it have been wise to have walked off court to rest a back which went into spasm? Murray isn’t playing tennis to be known as ‘Braveheart’, but to win the sport’s biggest prizes – the grand slams and the Olympics.
As Jim Courier remarked as he watched Murray defeat Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen in four sets to reach the third round of the French Open, playing through pain “gains you respect, but it doesn’t get you any healthier – your body needs rest”. Courier’s argument was that Murray (‘he looked like an 85-year-old man in the first set”) shouldn’t been concerned with a place in the last 32 at Roland Garros, but with the trophies and medals in London and New York. The next 48 hours, before Murray’s scheduled meeting with Columbia’s Santiago Giraldo on Saturday, could go a long way to determining how the rest of his summer plays out (though it should be said that doctors have so far been telling him that he won’t do any more damage to his body by playing in Paris).
The regulars at Roland Garros are forever wishing that their male players – Gasquet, Simon, Monfils, Tsonga – showed some of this fight and resolve on the clay. Murray’s decision to stay out on Court Philippe Chatrier – when in the first set he could barely serve or shuffle along the baseline – showed character, no doubt about that. “But I don’t know how he is going to solve the injury when he keeps putting himself through this,” Courier said. ‘I think he’s got a real problem. I think he should have stopped and should be out of this tournament, and getting some treatment. He could be doing himself some damage. He should be thinking about a tournament he can realistically win, and that’s Wimbledon. If I was counselling him, I would have told him to stop.”
Ivan Lendl may be a strong personality – but Murray is in charge. Murray’s support staff wanted him to stop after the first set. The Scot had been in great discomfort on the practice court, and his back has been troubling him all year, forcing him to miss the clay-court tournament in Madrid. And, after the first set, playing on looked pointless. But Murray made up his mind to play on, he had treatment, and the back loosened up.
Is Murray the hardest man to read in tennis? It’s in Paris that Murray seems to be at his most unpredictable. It was in a third-round match last year that Murray turned his ankle against Germany’s Michael Berrer, and yet he somehow survived. In the next round, he came from two sets down to beat Serbia’s Viktor Troicki. And then he went on to have his best French Open – he reached the semi-finals for the first time, and played some decent tennis against Rafael Nadal. Murray even surprises himself – he wasn’t sure how he beat Nieminen.
Murray was fortunate that he was playing someone as mentally fragile as Nieminen. It is never easy playing an opponent who looks as though he is about to retire because of injury. Having said that, Nieminen should have done far better than he did. From leading by a set and 4-2, he played miserably. No wonder that, after dropping his racket on to the clay in the closing stages, he stomped on the strings.
If only Murray always played as aggressively as he did when his back was hurting him. It was good to see Murray playing some shots; that’s the approach he needs (as well as a healthy body) if he is going to win something big this summer.