Monday, 6 June 2016
Andy Murray’s Misfortune: He’s the Same Age as Novak Djokovic
PARIS — Andy Murray was born May 15, 1987, in Glasgow, a wee lad destined to resurrect Britain’s fortunes in men’s tennis.
But one week later, another boy came into this world in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia, one who would go on to torment Murray on tennis courts around the world.
Such is Murray’s misfortune: to be almost the exact same age as Novak Djokovic, the best player in the world and one of the most dominant of any era.
“His performances over the last 18 months to two years have been exceptional,” Murray said Sunday after losing to Djokovic for the fifth time in a major tournament final. “He deserves to be No. 1.”
It is the same timing that has plagued other players, such as Andy Roddick, in their rivalries with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Wilt Chamberlain confronted a similar fate playing against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics all those years in the N.B.A.
For a while, the elite group of men’s tennis players known as the Big Four comprised Murray, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Perhaps Murray was only on the cusp of acceptance, having won fewer titles, but he was a factor in who won the big tournaments.
As injury and age chipped away at the aura of invincibility that Federer and Nadal once enjoyed, Djokovic surged into the top position. Murray may have passed Federer and Nadal to claim No. 2 in the world, but he is still looking up.
Murray’s position was confirmed again Sunday when Djokovic stormed from a set down to thrash him, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in the French Open final.
It was the 24th time Djokovic had beaten Murray in 34 career matches, and the eighth time in 10 meetings at major tournaments.
Murray has beaten Djokovic twice in a major final — at the United States Open in 2012 and at Wimbledon the following year. But since then, Djokovic has won 13 of 15 matches, including five in a row in the majors. The gap seems to be widening.
Sunday’s victory was Djokovic’s fourth major title in a row, something no one had achieved since Rod Laver in 1969. Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal as a part of a select group who have career Grand Slams. Murray still lacks the French and Australian titles, and Djokovic has defeated Murray four times in the final in Australia.
“Obviously, the guys I have been around the last few years have made things difficult for me,” Murray said. “I mean, you know, I have been close-ish to winning all of the slams now and, unfortunately, all of them have done it instead.”
In order to get past Djokovic, or at least back to his level, Murray may have to make adjustments. One former French Open champion, Billie Jean King, said that Murray had not reached his potential and that if he addressed his on-court demeanor, it could make the difference.
Murray is well-known for his midmatch mutterings — his looks of anguish, his self-deprecating explosions after mistakes and his audible complaints directed toward his coaching staff in the stands.
“All that is a copout,” King said. “I’ve done that. I’ve done it myself. It means I’m not taking responsibility. If he accepts responsibility, he will be so tough.”
She noted that when she and Craig Kardon coached Martina Navratilova, they would fine her every time she looked at them.
“Craig and I said, ‘Martina, every time you even look at us, it’s money for Billie and beers for Craig,’ ” she said. “And it worked. It’s a fun way to make your point.”
Djokovic has had his own issues with temper, even at this tournament. He may also understand the frustration Murray experiences when playing him. Djokovic endured it, too, when he first came on tour at a time when Federer played as if all the tournaments were his to win.
Many times, Djokovic said how important it was to use that challenge and competition to improve. But there was a time when he wondered if he would suffer the fate of players like Roddick, a terrific player but not at the level of the best of his day.
“At the beginning, I was not glad to be part of their era,” Djokovic said Sunday with a laugh.
Both Djokovic and Murray benefited from being a few years younger than Federer, who will turn 35 on Aug. 8. Nadal turned 30 last week, but his long list of injuries has ravaged his body.
Since Murray and Djokovic are only a week apart, though, Murray may never see Djokovic experience the limitations of age before he does.
Before Sunday’s final, clay was thought to be an answer. Murray had defeated Djokovic in Rome before coming to Paris. According to Gustavo Kuerten, the three-time French Open champion, Murray has what it takes to win it all, even with Djokovic playing.
“His game is close,” Kuerten said. “It’s good enough. It’s just a matter of doing it more consistently.”