January 30, 2011 8:42 pm

Murray flinches in the face of greatness

OMG! stands for Oh, Murray – Ghastly!’
 
Andy Murray reacts during his loss to Serbia's Novak Djokovic

As the kids say, OMG! Only on this occasion it stands for “Oh, Murray – Ghastly!”

Seventy-five years since a British male last won a Grand Slam, and Andy Murray, the best tennis player Britain has produced in all that time, stood at the door marked greatness in Melbourne on Sunday night. He came, he saw and he flinched.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia won the 2011 Australian Open, the first major tournament of the year, beating Murray in three one-sided sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

Murray did not cry, as he did after losing the same final to Roger Federer a year ago, though this was a far more dismal performance. Perhaps he is getting used to losing: he has reached three big finals now and failed to win a set in any of them.

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Matthew Engel

But this was a real opportunity. Federer and the world number one, Rafael Nadal, had both been knocked out. The stage was set but the bill-toppers were missing. That’s the moment on the path to stardom that the understudy is supposed to seize. Though Djokovic was technically next in line, Murray had beaten him three times running. If not now, when?

Djokovic himself seemed hesitant and uncertain at first, returning to a final he had won three years earlier. But Murray seemed quite certain: this was not going to be his night and that was that. He struggled, heavy-footed, through the first set, and was appalling in the second, going 5-0 down, until, with his chances receding towards invisibility, he suddenly began to play a little. Then, having broken serve at the start of the third set, Murray backed off again and subsided.

True, the millimetres that can decide a close tennis match nearly all went to Djokovic. But Murray let the close calls get to him. It was the racket’s fault; or maybe the squawking seagulls overhead; or just malign fate.

Murray often gets unfair criticism, for his demeanour if not his tennis, from the British press and public – and he will get bucketloads today. He can seem a bit rough and ready for home counties tennis club tastes. In fact, he is a chivalrous competitor, as his gracious concession speech proved.

But at 23, he has still not quite got the command over his temperament that distinguishes the best from the rest. Djokovic was vulnerable on Sunday, even on his formidable service but Murray kept either losing the initiative in the rallies or making the most outrageous errors.

He didn’t quite see it that way himself: “I would have liked to have played better,” said Murray, “but I think he would have beaten every other player on the tour tonight. He served well. He didn’t make many mistakes. He moved really, really well. He hit the ball very clean. That was it.”

Either way, British sporting prowess in Australia is now reverting to type – with the Aussie cricketers on Sunday winning the one-day series against Ashes-winning England.

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