Views from the Bleachers: No fairy tale ending for Britain’s Murray in Australian Open

Britains Andy Murray reacts during his loss to Serbias Novak Djokovic in the mens singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011.

Britain’s Andy Murray reacts during his loss to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in the men’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011.

I wanted to root for Andy Murray in the Australian Open finals on Sunday. I really did. I mean, you’ve got to feel for the guy. Murray has been touted the hope of England, the man that would finally become Great Britain’s first grand slam titlist in nearly 75 years. Never mind that he was born in Scotland – that wasn’t important. He was their guy. His play had even grabbed the attention of the queen, who was an adolescent the last time a Brit took home a major.

That’s a lot of pressure by anyone’s standards and it’s noticeably beginning to wear on Murray. Let’s not forget how his last two grand slam finals went. He was demolished by Roger Federer in straight sets in the 2008 US Open Final, and was dismantled once again in straight sets by the Fed express in the 2010 Australian open finals.

Let’s add this year’s title effort into the equation. Murray got pummeled by Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. It was hopeless from the start. Aside from the first set, the match wasn’t even close. The effort brings the pride of England’s major championship record to 0-3, without capturing a single set. It’s safe to assume the pressure may be getting to him.

All expectations aside, there was something extremely off-putting about the way Murray played his match against Djokovic. Djokovic shoved Murray’s own game plan down his throat from the opening point, retrieving impossible balls and turning helpless defense into offensive winners. It was the same devastating mixture of guile defense and fire power that thrust the Serbian past Federer in their semi-final match on Thursday.

Granted, this sort of play from the Serb could have reasonably beat anyone on the tour, there was something about Murray’s response that just didn’t sit well with me. Murray didn’t react the way you’d think a champion would in such an important situation. Instead of projecting confidence and pride, he hung his head. Instead of portraying impenetrability, he tugged at supposed wounds. Instead of remaining calm, he flashed numerous signs of frustration. In so many words, he didn’t look like a Federer, or a Rafael Nadal, or even now, a Djokovic. He looked overwhelmed. 

It’s not time to count Murray out just yet. He’s still relatively young (in tennis years) at 23, and has plenty of time to mature. The fact that he’s even made it to three grand slam finals says something in and of itself in this Federer-Nadal dominated era. He just needs to push the nerves and expectations aside and take that final, most difficult step.

The great Andre Agassi lost the first three grand slam finals he played in before going on to win eight majors, cementing his name in tennis history. This year’s women’s Australian Open champion, Kim Clijsters, lost the first four grand slam finals she played in before winning her next four. Shaky starts aren’t unheard of, and they’ve often blossomed into hall of fame careers.

What Murray doesn’t share with Agassi and Clijsters, at this point in time anyway, is that calm collected demeanor of a champion. The guy has got every tool he needs to put away all the big names in the sport, but he just isn’t using them properly. You could see in his face on Sunday that he was rattled, annoyed even, that Djokovic was so ruthlessly beating him, and he can’t let his opponents see that.

I still think there’s going to be a bright future ahead for Murray. He’s really just too talented to go without winning a major championship. The only person capable of stopping him from doing so is himself. But for now, Britain and her queen must wait once again for their title drought to be snapped.