Andy Murray, Britain’s Number 1 and current World Number 2, has been a part of the arguably greatest era in Men’s tennis. But will our greatest tennis player for almost 80 years ever reach that fabled Number 1 spot before his time is up? Has he become the best player never to reach the very top of the game?
Our Great Briton
There’s no doubting that Andy Murray is the greatest tennis player to come out of Great Britain for a very long time. He ended a 77-year wait for a Men’s Wimbledon title and played a huge part in ending the 79 year wait for the Davis Cup Trophy. Yet despite this, he has never been World Number One, and has never been a truly dominant force in Men’s tennis. Is he destined to only go down as a legend in the British history books?
Murray began playing tennis aged three, taken by his mother (who else?) to the local tennis courts, and played his first competitive tournament aged 5, and began competing against adults in the Central District Tennis League aged 8. It was between the ages of 11 and 17 that Murray was under the tutelage of Leon Smith (who he would infamously encounter again in late 2015), who described him as ‘unbelievably competitive’. The boy from Dunblane had all the makings of a star.
And for the most part, he has become a star. In 2004, he won the US Open Junior title before becoming the youngest Brit to be called up for the Davis Cup squad, and winning the year-end BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award for his achievements. In 2005, ranked outside the top 300, he reached the third round at Wimbledon before infamously losing to David Nalbandian after being two sets to the good. This was just the start of greater things: he has since picked up two senior Slams (the US Open and, of course, Wimbledon in 2013); reached a further six Slam finals; won 11 out of 15 Masters Finals; won one Olympic Gold; and led Britain to that Davis Cup victory.
Always in Someone’s Shadow
There’s no denying Andy Murray has what it takes to succeed; his record speaks for itself. He has the competitive, winning mentality; he has arguably the best defensive game on tour right now; and his level of fitness since that Nalbandian match back in ’04 has become arguably the best in the game. So is the problem perhaps not with Murray himself, but with the people he’s been pitted against?
Andy Murray surely takes his rightful place in the so-called “Big Four” of this era of men’s tennis. Since 2005, Murray, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer combined have won all but three Grand Slams, all but two ATP World Tour Finals, and both Olympic Golds. They have reached 42 out of 43 Slam finals (excluding the Cilic/Nishikori match-up at the 2014 US Open), a quite phenomenal record, which Murray is undoubtedly a part of.
However, while Murray’s record compared to the rest of the field is astounding, his record compared to the other members of the Big Four is less so. Murray has two Grand Slam titles. Federer has 17, Nadal 14, Djokovic 10. Murray has an impressive 11 ATP Masters 1000 titles. Nadal has 27. Djokovic 26. Federer 24. Federer has been ranked #1 at year-end five times. Djokovic four. Nadal three. Murray – never. Furthermore, his head-to-head record against each player is negative: against Federer, he’s won 11 and lost 14; against Nadal, he’s won just six and lost 16; against Djokovic, arguably his biggest rival, he’s won 9 and lost 21.
Each of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal have also had their “mini-era” within the age of the Big Four. Federer came first, arguably before Murray was even on the scene, being the year-end #1 in 2004 while Murray was ranked #411. He was year-end #1 for four consecutive years, and then 2008-2010 was shared by he and Nadal. Djokovic and Murray were third and fourth respectively on each of those three years. 2011 was potentially his chance, but Djokovic was so dominant that no-one else stood a chance. 2012 saw Murray lift his first ever Slam, but Djokovic and Federer again were a cut above the rest. It could have been 2013, when he finally lifted that Wimbledon trophy and Djokovic’s form cooled, but Nadal once again stepped it up a gear after a masterful season on clay. Murray’s post-Wimbledon slump scuppered any chances he had in 2014; and this year, again Djokovic was untouchable.
Born in the Wrong Era?
It could be argued, then, that Murray has faced the highest quality trio of players that has ever existed within the game, and together they have denied him that World Number 1 crown. But would he have reached the top had he been born pre-Big Four, or even post-Big Four?
Before the appearance of Federer, there was a time at the dusk of the careers of Agassi and Sampras where seemingly, the Grand Slam titles and the position at the top of the men’s game were there for the taking. Between 2001-2003, the 12 Grand Slam titles were won by 10 different men – Agassi won his last two Australian Opens in ’01 and ’03; Lleyton Hewitt won his only two Slams at the US in ’01 and Wimbledon the following year; Sampras won his 14th and final Slam in 2002 at the US Open; clay specialist Gustavo Kuerten won his 3rd and last French Open; and five players won their only Slam: Thomas Johansson, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Goran Ivanisevic and Andy Roddick. The tenth man was Federer in ’03 at Wimbledon.
Andy Murray was born in 1987, and was only 14 in 2001. Surely, if he had been born ten years earlier, and was at the height of his abilities, aged 24 in 2001, his chances of becoming World Number 1 against such an unpredictable field would have been huge? Between January 2001 and December 2003, the world number one changed 11 times, with Kuerten, Marat Safin, Hewitt, Agassi, Ferrero and Roddick all holding the title at some point, before Federer held it for over four years straight. That era was crying out for one man to take charge – could it have been Murray, under different circumstances?
Or perhaps if he had been born later? Who is there taking up the mantle of the Big Four now? Federer will be 35 in 2016; Nadal will be 30, and we’ve already seen how the intensity of his game can affect him physically with injuries. Both Murray and Djokovic will be 29, supposedly past their prime. Will there be another chasm once these four begin to fade? The youngest player at the ATP World Tour Finals this year was Kei Nishikori at 25. David Ferrer (#7) is 34 next year. Tomas Berdych (#6) and Stan Wawrinka (#4) will be 31. Would Murray have benefitted from being a couple of years younger and fresher, when he would have faced yet older versions of the players currently around him, and perhaps only had to deal with the likes of Nishikori, Marin Cilic or Milos Raonic in their prime? By way of comparison, Rafael Nadal was aged just 22 when he became #1 and just 19 when he was #2; Austria’s Dominic Thiem, the highest ranked 22-year-old, is ranked at #20. Borna Coric is the highest ranked 19-year-old and he’s at #44.
Have Your Say
We can speculate all we like, but nothing will change Andy Murray’s birthday. And we hold out hope that he will still reach the very top of the game in years to come. But all of this begs the question: will he?
Will Andy Murray ever be World Number 1? Vote now.