“It is the normal evolution of a great player and a great talent. You know, I’ve said many times in press conferences that Andy (Murray) would win a Grand Slam and now he has won. He deserves it more than anyone. I am very happy for him.”—Rafael Nadal
One of the most striking elements in the Andy Murray saga has been the degree of support he’s enjoyed from his peers, and particularly from the top three men, who have the most to lose from a Murray surge. Who can forget the way Roger Federer consoled a teary Murray after beating him in the 2010 Australian Open final, as well as after the Wimbledon final a few months ago?
On that latter occasion, Federer said: “I really do believe deep down in me he that will win Grand Slams, not just one. I wish him all the best. This is genuine. He works extremely hard. He’s as professional as you can be. Things just didn’t quite turn out for him in the finals that he hoped for. But today I’m sure he got another step closer to a Grand Slam title for him. I really do believe and hope for him that he’s going to win one soon.”
Novak Djokovic has been slightly less effusive in his cheerleading for Murray, but even he was moved to say, after administering a savage beating on the Scot in the 2011 Australian Open final, “I want to congratulate Andy for a great two weeks, it was really difficult to play against you. Hopefully you will have another chance to win a Grand Slam trophy and, with your talent, I'm sure you will.”
If Djokovic’s encouragement sounded more formal than the nurturing comments of Federer and Nadal, it might be because Djokovic and Murray are really ideally positioned to be rivals—and not just because Federer and Nadal have been there, done that. Nole and Andy were born a week apart in the same year (1987), their head-to-head is deadlocked at four matches apiece (the last four all were won by Murray), and Djokovic has 18 titles to Murray’s 17.
But it’s still not like these guys are real frenemies. As Djokovic said before Murray finally took measure of him to bag his first Grand Slam title in New York a few weeks ago: “It’s been a great, well, childhood, if you can say, that we had together. . .I don't think we were planning to meet each other, but we were dreaming of being in a Grand Slam final. You could already feel at that stage when we were 12, 13, 14 that we both have a talent and we both have great motivation and mentality to succeed.”
Has any challenger to the status quo ever received as much encouragement from his rivals as has Murray? Jimmy Connors would be rolling over in his grave, if he were dead instead of merely going ballistic about how the incompetent replacement NFL referees have made him quit betting on pro football games.
“I was trying to play a lot of different shots, like some high balls then some short balls too, and I think I made it difficult for her. Today it was important to play my own game. She hits very hard, and if you start to do the same it's very difficult because she plays that game very well.”—Sara Errani
Kudos to the newest member of the WTA Top 10, who spoke those words yesterday in Tokyo after posting another quality win, this time over Marion Bartoli.
The key words in her quote, to me, are “different shots” and “to play my own game.” How many other players have comparable options, especially when they’re facing a woman who belts the ball as hard and goes for broke as frequently as Bartoli? That’s one of the shortcomings of the otherwise rich diet of WTA tennis these days. Very few players even have what you might call “a game,” at least not one that differs significantly from the standard-issue, aggressive baseline game predicated on a two-handed backhand, consistency, and the will and skill to prevail in rallying contests.
Errani has a refreshingly varied toolbox, even if there’s nothing atomic inside. Her clever, counter-punching, slice-and-dice game is a breath of fresh air. She’s also working her tail off to remain on track to make the WTA Championships (she’s currently in seventh place) and doesn’t mind saying so. I’m glad she’s in the mix up near the top of the game.