Probabilistically, it is not surprising that all long and tight tennis matches have moments of drama. It can arise out of a controversial line call at a critical point, or from players saying something to each other in the heat of the moment. (Both occured in the 2013 Australian Open semifinal between Murray and Federer.) Or it can arise out of a feather gently floating down to the court. Sometimes you don’t even know to call it drama until after the match.
In the second set tiebreak of the Murray vs Djokovic final, as Murray was about to serve at 2-2, having missed his first serve, a feather floated down on to the court and Murray stopped to pick it up and put it away, before double-faulting, and then going on to lose the set and the match. The match was of such small margins at that point that one can argue that the feather point and another easy point that Murray later lost in the tiebreak were enough to turn the result in Djokovic’s favour.
And Brian Phillips wonders exactly this, but in the more general context of Murray’s ability to deal with, well, feathers. The article is well worth reading, as is so much of his work, though I’m not sure if he overstates his case here, particularly the point about the windy conditions playing a major role in Murray’s US Open win and in winning the first set in the Wimbledon final. Being from Scotland would seem like the more relevant factor there, but Brian Phillips says it’s Murray’s tricky mind and Phillips is an honourable man, not to mention a very likeable and creative writer, so I’ll let it pass.
But his take on this did remind me of a different sporting incident. When Michael Phelps won the 200m butterfly gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he swam with his goggles filled with water. He even signaled that to his coach Bob Bowman immediately after the race. (Check out 6:50 in this video.) There were news reports later saying that Bowman had trained Phelps for unexpected situations of exactly this nature — having him swim with cracked goggles or even no goggles at smaller meets, deliberately arranging a late pickup etc., thus giving him the experience of racing under situations that were not ideal.
It is true that Murray has demonstrated a pretty complex personality so far, and perhaps Brian Phillips is on the mark with his assessment. But the strides that Murray has made in the last year have included those of a mental nature anyway. So perhaps that is the next step for Murray and Lendl to take — to borrow a page from the Bowman handbook and learn to completely take in stride the controversial line call, the heated words, and, most importantly, the falling feather.