Friday, 17 August 2012

A different Andy Murray?

With the US Open less than a fortnight away, the question has to be whether claiming Olympic Gold is going to prove to be a turning point in the career of Andy Murray. No number of articles, blog posts or interviews could possibly enhance how aware we all are of his 'nearly man' status.

To date, twenty-seven grand slams have produced four major finals, which in turn have yielded just one set won. No-one can question his ability, speed around the court, outstanding returning and seemingly relentless defensive abilities. He has vastly improved his second serve and ability to attack rather than just waiting for opponents' mistakes, but most of all, he is mentally stronger. Only time and results will be a true measure but claiming his first genuinely significant title will surely have taught Murray like nothing else that he really is good enough to beat the best.

Only once before (2010 Toronto Masters) had he beaten two of the top 3 in consecutive matches. On six occasions he beat one before losing to the next (normally in the final). But at the Olympics, he beat both Djokovic and Federer. Of course neither were on the top of their game, Novak seeming out of sorts and almost demotivated and Roger simply shattered, but that effect was greatly exacerbated by Murray's sheer aggression and dominance all over the court.

There was something different about him, determined and proud, the crowd fully unified behind him, exuding confidence. He was by quite some distance the best player at the tournament, by a long way, and it never seemed even remotely possible that he could lose. Perhaps being part of something bigger, participating as a member of Team GB, perhaps something else, but irrespective of the reason, this was a different Andy Murray.

Heading to Flushing Meadows, he must be right up there with Djokovic and Federer as a one of, if not the clear favourite. Nadal's withdrawal doesn't change the fact that Murray will have to beat them both (upsets aside), but we now know he can and very possibly, the Scot knows it now as well. 

What I really do hope for is a high quality final. There are few better sights in tennis than a Grand Slam final, where both players are completely at the top of their games. So often it seems as though one player doesn't quite compete as we know they can, and it ends up as less of a contest than it has the potential for. The Wimbledon final was a perfect example of a high-class clash between the two best players in the tournament.
The variety and accuracy with which Federer distributed the ball around the court was utterly remarkable, and frankly without compare. Murray played as well as he could, finding a great balance with his solid defence providing an excellent foundation from which to attack. Maybe in a few weeks time we will be able to say that both played to their maximum but that Murray came out on top at last.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Post-Apocolympic Sporting World

If you're being honest with yourself, as a British Sporting fan, did you really think we would have quite such a successful Olympics

Surely something is amiss when we experience this level of genuine success with no 'buts' and particularly when all the logistical side of things ran so smoothly as well. A lesson in how to defy multiple British self-perceptions in one spectacular fortnight. After years of being faithful (and perhaps ever so slightly masochistic) spectators of great anticipation preceding deflating and disappointing sporting performances something was very different this time. It is unlikely that many of us will have in our lifetime either another London Olympics or a time of such unified national fervour and support. Similarly it's pretty unlikely that any time soon Team GB or its composite nations will see a repeat of such unbridled sporting success.

There was such a build up that frankly most of the country was pretty sick of the whole thing before it even started and yet as a nation we were won over by relentless success. Barely a day seemed to go past when we didn't win a medal in a sport that we barely knew existed, alongside overwhelming dominance in the likes Cycling and Rowing. Suddenly the whole nation, sporting-sceptics included, found itself being swept along about Canoeing, fired up about Trap Shooting and struck by Taekwondo. 

So now we find ourselves back in the regular swing of things. The football season has begun again in earnest, with the League Cup, Charity Shield and random irrelevant international friendlies. It's hard to see how anyone can stop City from dominating the Premiership this season. A slow start might put them under pressure and make the race interesting, but the strengthening done by the chasing pack doesn't seem like enough to make the difference. Chelsea and Arsenal have spent a lot and brought in some excellent players but have lost their respective talismen with Drogba departing and Van Persie making his intentions clear. It seems as though Utd have sealed the RVP deal so they could seriously threaten, as they almost always do, but the likes of Liverpool and Spurs, if anything, seem weaker than last year. That said, the new manager effect is an unpredictable enigma at the best of times. At least we don't have much time to wait to find out.

Meanwhile, the rest of the sporting world continues as though it is any old August. London 2012 and the great success of Team GB has no bearing now on the England - South Africa cricket series, the US Open tennis, the AVIVA Premiership rugby and Formula 1 returning to action from its mid-season break. Plenty to keep us interested then.