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2011 - The Year of Andy Murray?

Luke Gardener previews the year ahead for Andy Murray, following his Australian Open final defeat (Thumbnail credit Andy Murray in action at Wimbledon in 2009. Image: E01 via Flickr Creative Commons)

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At the beginning of 2010 Andy Murray reached the final of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year and lost to Roger Federer in a repeat of Murray's first Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2008.

Now, the question which is on so many people's minds is can Andy Murray win the Grand Slam everyone thinks he deserves 2011? Well so far, so near for Andy Murray this year as he has breezed into the Australian Open final with little difficulty and with the draw opening up he didn't have to face Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. However he found out that Novak Djokovic may be the clear and outright world number three after he was decimated in straight sets in the final. No luck so far.

Murray will have to defeat players that are above him in the world rankings to claim his first Grand Slam title and it would be more realistic perhaps for Murray to reach a final or win a Slam in one of the later events of the year, either Wimbledon or the US Open. By this time, Murray will have had a chance of moving up the rankings, and will have formed a strategy and a stronger working relationship with his relatively new coach, Alex Corretja.

Andy Murray is one of the top five all round tennis players in the world who can play on any area of the court and who is one of the only players to have a winning record over Roger Federer winning eight of their fourteen encounters. With many saying Federer is the greatest to have ever played the game this is some accomplishment for the man from Dunblane, Scotland, but until he wins a Grand Slam it won't be seen as anything remarkable.

Murray's game has improved greatly over the past two to three years. His serve is now far more accurate, his forehand more reliable and his backhand is regarded as one of, if not the best backhand in the world today. So why hasn't Murray won a Grand Slam already? Is it bad luck? Is it having tough draws? Is it the weight of public expectation? In truth, all of these have combined to make it a challenging task. By reaching three Grand Slam finals already at the age of just 23, Murray has proven that had luck gone his way on the day against his opponents, he would have proven all of his critics wrong and lifted a mighty weight from his shoulders.

There is no doubt now that statistically Murray is the greatest British tennis player since Fred Perry after reaching three Grand Slam finals. Had Murray perhaps taken on any other player in the world in his first two finals he would have had an easier task in winning as Federer has an overwhelming Grand Slam finals record and a massive sixteen Grand Slam titles to his name. In the case of the Australian Open this year he met a player in the form of his life that as Murray said, would have beaten any player in the world in the final as he was in scintillating form.

An extra burden for Andy Murray is the fact that no British player has won a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry in 1936. With the British press and former tennis players heralding Murray as the man to break the curse, every shot in every match Murray hits is analysed obsessively. The hope is that he can finally achieve what so many other British players have failed to do including most recently, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski; the latter reached the US Open final in 1997. One thing which everyone is certain of is that Murray has a realistic chance of winning a Grand Slam and has a bright future with many years to accomplish his goal as long as he stays injury free.

One thing for all of us British tennis supporters to be pleased about is the fact that Murray now sees his self as 'mentally being in a better place' than ever before in his career. Hopefully this means that Murray's seemingly despondent attitude which he sometimes shows on court will disappear and give him a greater psychological advantage over his opponents. However there were signs throughout the Australian Open that his mental attitude is far from the ice-cool Federer or the constantly pumped-up Nadal.

Andy Murray has proved he is in the top five tennis players in the world consistently over the past three years having won sixteen titles and an impressive six of them were in the Masters series, the elite tournaments below the four Grand Slams. His win percentage in finals of tournaments is also among the best and he wins two out of every three finals he competes in. In addition to this, the current coach of Roger Federer, Paul Annacone, stated recently that Murray 'may be the best counterpuncher on tour today.'

Murray's uncanny ability to anticipate and react to what his opponent is going to do next sets him apart from players around him in the world rankings and have earned him respect from tennis greats from John McEnroe to Roger Federer. One thing which Andy Murray will be buoyed by is what his tennis idol Andre Agassi had to say about him heading into 2011. Agassi stated; 'I've always liked Murray's game, but he kind of got a little fatigued, you know. I figure this is a big year for him or the time he's going to break through. You can't help but believe that his game deserves that time in the sun.' Such high praise from the American tennis legend will only spur on the determined Scot to fulfill his potential in becoming the first British Grand Slam winner in almost a century despite his loss in the Australian Open final.

So as a tennis fan we all have our opinions on Murray and he has caused controversy in his short career thus far with his attitude, opinions and temperament. However, we must respect the ability the man possesses with a tennis racket in his hand. Murray has done it the hard way, growing up in Barcelona learning his craft on the red clay which so many British players despise. Murray insists that learning the game abroad and avoiding LTA schemes to enhance British tennis players made him the player he is today and from his results thus far it would be hard to disagree with him.

2011 is a pivotal year for the Scotsman, it could either prove he belongs with the best in world tennis or he could become a press figure of the man who so nearly gets there, similar to Tim Henman with his multiple semi-finals at Grand Slam events. Something tells me that the character of Andy Murray will have the final say and he will prove it in the near future. Andre Agassi lost his first three Grand Slam finals before winning the fourth, could Murray emulate his tennis idol?

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