By Matt Cronin
NEW YORK- There is no question that Andy Murray has developed enough weaponry in his game to be able to win a Grand Slam, but that is no guarantee that he will actually do so.
He has a very good chance to raise the big trophy at the US Open on Monday (yes, the men’s final has been pushed back again by a day for the fifth straight year due to rain), which will be his fifth chance in a major final. Two months ago at Wimbledon, he managed to win his first set on a Grand Slam final day when he extended Roger Federer to four.
At the very least, he should be able to push either Novak Djokovic or David Ferrer to five, even if he doesn’t win. That would appear to be a step in right direction as the fifth time he races into a final, three sets would logically be his, which would mean his first Slam title.
Murray needs to lock down and win the title on Monday, even though he would be an underdog against Djokovic, and only a decent-sized favorite over Ferrer. He will by now be able to win the final if he pushes the ball around like he did in his victory in gale force winds over Tomas Berdych, but if he returns brilliantly and strokes the ball as smoothly as he did in putting Milos Raonic in his place in the fourth round, then he’ll have more than just a puncher’s chance.
Under the tutelage of his coach, Ivan Lendl, Murray’s forehand has improved remarkably, so that the likes of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal can no longer go at that wing whenever they are in trouble. While his second serve still leaves a lot to be desired, he has an excellent first serve that he can strike in the 130 MPH range. His two-handed backhand is one of the world’s best and the 25-year-old is more comfortable slicing the ball off both wings than any member of the Big 4. Like those three multiple Slam winners, he reads his foes serves like an obsessive copy editor searching for mistakes.
While Murray has beaten every other member of the Big 4 at one time or another in important matches, he has never taken Federer or Djokovic down at a Slam and only is 2-6 against Nadal at the majors. But Berdych upset Federer and Nadal missed the tournament due to injury. So now he only has to win one more match against one of his peers who does not intimidate him, Djokovic, or against a man who has never played a Grand Slam final, Ferrer, who might play nervously.
Back in 2008, Murray managed to upset Nadal in a semifinal that spanned two days due to rain. But in the final against Roger Federer, he wasn't physically up to going sideline to sideline or mentally able to pick him self up again after his thrilling win over the Spaniard.
“I'm obviously a lot more mature. I have had a lot more experience in these sort of situations, than obviously then,” Murray said.
The more evolved Murray also says that his back-to-back victories over Djokovic and Federer at the London Olympic on grass lifted a weight off of his shoulders, so that the next time he plays a Slam final, he will be able to come out firing and sustain a high level.
At least that’s what he thinks, but until he walks on Ashe Stadium on Monday, he won't know that for sure. Slam pressure is entirely different than Olympic pressure because those who most closely pay attention to pro tennis, including other players, see the majors as the four crown jewels of the sport. There really is no other fifth Slam, despite some other tournaments – including the Olympics -- trying to lay claim to that accolade. Marc Rosset is not a Hall of Famee because he won the gold at the 1992 Olympics. Neither is Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who won the gold in 2000.
There are only four majors and winning or losing them makes or breaks careers. Murray has the talent, strokes and intellect to win major. Do I believe he can? Yes. Will I predict he will on Monday regardless of his foe? I will not. In his fifth appearance in Slam final, he has to prove to me that he can do it.
“Winning the Olympics did, for me, take a bit of the pressure off,” Murray said. “I did feel a lot better after that. Maybe had less doubts about myself and my place in the game just now. But, winning a major is the last thing that I really want to do. It means a lot to me. You saw obviously at Wimbledon how much that meant to me. It's obviously not easy to lose another slam final, so I hope this one is a different story.”