The greatest thing about Andy Murray’s US Open win is that nervous Murray supporters like myself no longer feel the need to watch his matches from behind the sofa, with their hearts beating fast, living the nightmare, shortening their lives with the stress. They can actually watch their man with some semblance of calm.
There are plenty of Murray matches I have seen from behind the metaphoric sofa. There was the semifinal of the 2012 Australian Open, which he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in a very tight five-setter, a match I mostly slept through with the laptop in bed next to me, the news of his loss coming to me in a half-dream, half-awake state. In my dream he lost in four sets, I was surprised to read later that he lost in five.
He then won the first set of the Wimbledon final against Roger Federer quite convincingly, or so one thought, until the collapse of the next three sets. It was his fourth Slam final, and the first time that he had won a set. He won the Olympic gold on the same court four weeks later, beating Federer. Federer later claimed that Wimbledon was more important to him anyway, and I then overheard an upstairs neighbour saying Murray too would have preferred to win Wimbledon. It’s probably true that he would have, but the Olympics experience in the UK seemed to teach Murray how to relax at a home tournament, and especially after the post-Wimbledon tears, the crowd just totally got behind him, possibly for life, and there’s something to be said for that.
After that came the US Open of course, and I saw several Murray matches, though not the final, because I couldn’t handle the stress. (This did not stop me from writing about it at length though!) And then, the most recent was the Australian Open again. And, strangely enough, I found myself actually looking forward to seeing the semifinal against Federer, and not even with the certain anticipation of heartbreak, as I had always done in the past. I guarantee you, it was the first time ever that a Murray match against Federer/Nadal/Djokovic in a Grand Slam had not made me nervous. The game started at 12:30am over here, on a Friday morning, and I saw the damn thing, with its see-sawing five sets, actually feeling reasonably confident that Murray would mean. (I assure you, it was a radically new experience, one I still haven’t completely gotten over.) Murray was outplaying Federer pretty consistently, but Federer kept coming back at critical moments, and yet Murray never really seemed like losing.
Strangely enough, the subsequent final against Djokovic seemed to matter less to me. Beating Federer in a Slam seemed like a far bigger deal, and winning that one cleared up a lot of long-standing question marks, which “merely” beating Djokovic would not have done. It seems odd to say this, but I was okay with Murray losing to Djokovic, and at some level, I might have expected it, even before the match, and certainly by the time the time the third set was on.
The final was also less entertaining than the semi had been — Murray and Djokovic have similar baseline games, and it became something of a (high quality) slugfest, while the semi contained more variety, originating from Federer perhaps, but which Murray often responded to in kind. But the key point, in both games, was Murray’s willingness to attack. His readiness to use an opening to close out the point, instead of playing defense and waiting for a mistake from the opponent. I think that is really the hallmark of the new Murray. There are other significant changes as well — the vastly improved first serve and the increased equilibrium (read the reduced yelling at himself). But it’s the attacking game that means we have a Murray who is not only easier to watch, but also more fun to watch. And one who has not only found new ways to win, but when he loses, it’s a completely different type of losing. And that’s the main point.
The part of me that is easily satisfied wants to say, “Long may it continue,” but another voice says, “So when’s the next Slam win coming?” In either case, “Come on Andy!”