[Originally posted at Tennis Abides by Dan Martin]
Andy Murray left Melbourne with a 2-6 record in Grand Slam championship matches. Strangely, he’s played all 8 of these matches against 2 men: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Federer throttled Murray in 2008 when Federer looked vulnerable most of that summer after losing an epic 5 set clash with Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. Murray’s court positioning was so passive in that match that Federer was allowed to dictate from start to finish. Murray at that time had a very favorable head-to-head record versus Federer so the loss and nature of the loss surprised many people. Federer more or less repeated this result at the 2010 Australian Open final. Their 2012 Wimbledon final was a much more closely contested match. Murray’s 2011 annihilation at the hands of Novak Djokovic in Melbourne cemented many people’s notion that Murray was not a big match player. In the era of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, I am not sure how fair this label is for Murray, but losing the final 9 games of the 2015 Australian Open after being dead even with the world #1 for 2 and 1/2 sets is not exactly shaking this reputation either. I do think Murray has demonstrated the quality known as “clutch” in many instances though.
Nadal won the French Open and Wimbledon in 2008 to more or less break Federer’s monopoly on the #1 ranking. He added a gold medal in Beijing for good measure. Nadal was a bit road weary and unhappy to have his semifinal squeezed in to avoid a major rain pattern. Still, Murray played inspired tennis to race to a two sets lead, but trailed by a break of serve when the rain hit. Nadal had all night to get his mental game back. The new world #1 served out the 3rd set. The stage was set for Nadal to create another clash with Roger Federer as he could rally to victory. Instead Murray calmly took the 4th set and the match to reach his first Grand Slam final.
4. Andy Murray d. Novak Djokovic 2012 Olympic Semifinal Round 7-5, 7-5
Andy Murray carried the UK’s hopes with him as he left Wimbledon a few weeks earlier with a championship loss. Winning this match was huge because it assured Murray of a medal. Had he lost, Murray would have played Del Potro for the bronze medal. Murray could have lost either set as this was a close match, but he and a partisan crowd carried the day.
3. Andy Murray d. Novak Djokovic 2012 US Open 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2
This was a classic example of a come from ahead victory. Murray and Djokovic battled for two incredible sets, and Murray managed to take both sets. Djokovic dug in as Murray seemed a but winded to start the 3rd. As they headed into the 4th, I figured Murray was still in command, but Djokovic once again battled through and forced a fifth set that I was sure would lead to Murray’s demise (as well as the hopes of all of his fans). Instead, Murray regrouped and Djokovic ran out of gas. Murray broke a 76 year Grand Slam drought by male players from the UK by fending off the defending champion after giving up a 2 set lead. Murray had to be clutch there.
Federer had beaten Andy Murray on that exact court 2 weeks earlier. I thought the 3 out of 5 set format for the championship match would give Federer enough time to solve Murray even if the fans and circumstances gave Murray early momentum. The match went a different direction. Federer had an early look at breaking Murray’s serve in the first game, and that was his last good news until the 3rd set. Murray built a huge lead, the fans were nuts, and Murray aced his way to victory when serving at 5-4.
Murray’s gold medal and US Open wins in 2012 exorcised many demons for tennis fans from the UK. This match buried those demons. Breaking a 77 year drought in straight sets against the 2011 Wimbledon champion was huge. Murray was also clutch in this event by rallying from 2 sets down against Fernando Verdasco. Murray also fell behind by a break in the 3rd set after splitting the first two sets against Jerzy Janowicz in the semifinal round. Jerzy is a huge server and Murray may have been needing another 5th set to reach this final, but instead Murray rallied and took Jerzy’s fighting spirit away during the rally. Andy Murray has Grand Slam or Olympic wins against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. He also has wins over Berdych, Del Potro, Cilic, and other top flight players over the years.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Dan Martin