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Why 2015 could be an exceptional year for Andy Murray

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What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Andy Murray just about clawed his way to a semi-final with Rafael Nadal at the French Open, but then was battered by the Spaniard convincingly. Then came the disappointing loss at Wimbledon to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals, followed by an eventual physical deterioration against Djokovic in New York after two high quality sets.

Having to play for 6 weeks non stop just to qualify for the London finals, the Scot was finally done after Roger Federer dished out another humiliation, with a 6-0 – 6-1 scoreline, leaving Murray a lot to ponder for 2015.

His decision to appoint Amelie Mauresmo was placed under huge scrutiny given that he had parted ways with Lendl, who was responsible for ultimately turning Murray into a grand slam champion and Olympic gold medallist, which has cemented Murray’s legacy. The questions surrounding his team were coupled with the growing concerns over his fitness and physical matchup with the elite players, and overall signalled worrying times for the Brit.

However, at present, Andy Murray enters the fourth round of the French Open once again but there is a slightly different outlook this time. Not just because Rafael Nadal has been below his best, but because Murray has his own quiet confidence, having won two clay tournaments in the build up to this event for the first time. You may not value the Munich title as much given that it is a lower key event, but the Madrid win was incredible. The performances to defeat the two Madrid finalists of last year was as Murray described himself, “the two best clay-court matches of my career.”

Murray didn’t allow Kei Nishikori to settle in their semi-final, but even after that win no-one could have ever envisaged what he would do to the King of Clay in the final. From suffering such a brutal hammering last time they played, the way Murray turned the tables and destroyed the greatest player of all time on clay was unbelievable.  The crunching returns, the accurate serving, the attacking forehand and variety that characterised his most successful period in his career kept Nadal off balance and pretty much out of the contest during that match.

Murray’s Madrid triumph was largely used to increase the doubts over Nadal’s ability to defend his Roland Garros crown, but it also highlighted how far Murray has come from to bridge the gap between himself and the best players. Even though the victory on this occasion backs this up, 2015 has overall been a remarkable renaissance of the Scot even if it has not always resulted in a title winning contribution.

Despite being eventually thwarted by Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final, the first two sets of that match and his performances especially against Berdych and Dimitrov in Melbourne Park were exceptional. Not just the attacking play, but the defensive aspect was just as impressive, and was a visible indication of how free the Scot was moving from his back problem and the improved fitness levels that was very much lacking in 2014. Even though he did not win the title, Murray showed that he was back and ready to compete with the best again for the highest prizes that the sport has to offer.

This year, Murray has already shown that he has the capabilities to once again sustain a serious challenge against his fellow top three players that were appearing to forge ahead of him last year, given Federer’s rejuvenated aggressive play, Nadal still winning the French Open and Djokovic gaining the Wimbledon trophy. The Miami final earlier this season is a prime example, with Murray giving a better account of himself against Djokovic than the last time in Indian Wells, pushing the Serb in another bruising encounter which again highlighted how far the Scot had come to matching the world number 1 in the form of his life for the majority of that match.

The overall consistency and form of the world number 3 does also bode well for the remainder of the season too. As the eyes of the tennis world will soon start to shift towards the grass court season, Murray will be looking to make amends for a disappointing campaign last year, and on current form, who is to say that he cannot go far once again in Wimbledon given his previous history and spectacular achievement in winning on home soil in 2013. In addition, the last grand slam in New York also presents an opportunity for Murray to make a deep run and push for a third grand slam title.

However, currently there is still a window of opportunity in the French Open. If Murray was to overcome Chardy, whom he beat comfortably in Rome, and Ferrer or Cilic in the quarterfinals without extending too much energy, a semi final matchup against a possibly exhausted winner of the likely Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal could be to his advantage should the semi become a physical contest. Murray should take extra belief from his dominant win in Madrid if he plays Nadal, and Djokovic may experience a let down should he come though because he would have defeated the man who has for so long prevented the Serbian from achieving his career grand slam dream. In fact, in Monte-Carlo, Djokovic was understandably drained emotionally after the euphoria of beating Nadal in the semis and just managed to get past Tomas Berdych in the final.

Obviously, there is still a lot of tennis to be played and even if Murray fails to win the French Open, he has made huge steps in his game on clay and has underlined his clay court pedigree even further following his titles and resounding win over Nadal, in turn breaking new ground in winning his first ATP Masters 1000 clay event. In addition, the Davis Cup glory is still on the cards not just for Murray but for his fellow Brits, as the Scot is likely to spearhead the challenge against the French when they go head to head his summer. Also, much was made of the lack of top 10 wins that Murray had achieved in 2014, but he has answered those questions emphatically this year with multiple impressive wins against the likes of Berdych, Nishikori and Nadal.

So, a possible chance to still go further than in previous years at the French Open, an opportunity to still finish the season with a flourish with a British Davis Cup triumph and the remaining two grand slams on offer which has been the scene of his grand slam victories so far.

Overall, the future does look bright for Andy Murray right now.  If he continues to display such a rich vein of form and performance against the top players for the remainder of the French Open and the rest of the year, 2015 may just turn out to be a truly exceptional year for Andy Murray.


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