Those who have watched Andy Murray closely this year have seen the same occurrences too often for his disappointments to be a coincidence, as he seems to have lost his killer instinct.
It was just 13 months ago that the then world number two achieved the crowning moment of his career, becoming the first British male to win Wimbledon in 77 years, but he is still showing little signs of putting an end to the slump that has set in since then.
The two-time Grand Slam winner’s recent exit from the Cincinnati Masters means that he is still yet to reach the final of a tournament since then, and his world ranking has dropped by seven places to ninth in that time.
Another crushing defeat
The British number one has endured a torrid year by his standards, and his 6-3, 7-5 defeat to world number three Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters was yet another case of missed opportunities proving costly, as even Federer admitted after the match that he stole the second set from being a double break down.
This, along with collapses such as losing the first-set tie-break from 6-2 up to Czech Radek Stepanek in the third round of the Aegon Championships at the Queen’s Club in June, and consequently the match, as well as losing to France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from leading 3-0 in the third set at the Toronto Masters recently, shows an uncomfortable trend that needs addressing.
While he continues to reiterate the point that he has faced difficulty in recovering from the back surgery that forced him to miss the end of the 2013 season, some of his defeats are not coming from the strain of playing longer matches, but from lapses of concentration and a drop in stamina.
A first serve success percentage of 48% against the likes of Federer will be obvious to Murray that it is not near the level required to beat him, and cutting out double faults is another issue he has to face, after gifting Isner match point after consecutive double faults on Thursday, which he should not be doing, whatever physical state he is in.
It would not be fair to shoulder any blame on to his coach Amelie Mauresmo, as the Scot seems happy to be working with the Frenchwoman, as she continues to help him improve his physical condition, and it is too early for her to overhaul the slide.
Being honest, his gruelling win over American John Isner (6-7, 6-4, 7-6) in the previous round showcased the level that he is at now, slugging it out with players of a top 20 standard, but coming unstuck against the more skilful and physically powerful beasts at the top of the game, which is shown by the fact that he has failed to beat a top 10 player in 2014.
The Dunblane-born player lost his Wimbledon title after being beaten in the quarter-finals by Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who was his first difficult opponent in the tournament, and some questioned that he may not have the stomach for the fight, particularly after reaching a potential summit of his career at the same venue in 2013.
What is difficult to comprehend is that this was not the case after the 27-year-old won the US Open in 2012, and considering that he beat Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in the final after winning his first four finals in majors, he could have even been forgiven for dropping off a level.
But in reaching the final of the Australian Open and winning Wimbledon the following year, his progress under then coach Ivan Lendl showed little sign of ending.
It is becoming clearer that whatever effect Lendl had on his game, the formula that had been imprinted into his brain to mentally compete at the top level, is dissipating before our very eyes.
But a player of Murray’s calibre should not be reliant on the expertise of one man, and it is time for him to move on, and it is still possible for him to challenge at the US Open, which begins on August 25th.
I wrote previously that there were reasons why he could even win the tournament at Flushing Meadows for the second time, as he has previously shown the resilience and the ability to perform in New York, but he is going to have to play at a level he has not been able to find for some time now.
Perhaps it will need rest and recuperation, to clear his mind above all else, before he and Mauresmo can really get to work on tactics and work out a strategy to get him back to the upper echelons of the top 10.
Until then, he is going to have to remember how to finish opponents off, in the way that a champion should do.
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