Friday
Oct282016

Is Murray number one material?

As the end of the season approaches, thoughts inevitably turn to who will be the year end No 1. In recent years the top player has been a fairly obvious pick. This year however, Kerber will take the mantle from Williams, since Serena has already called an end to her season due to a shoulder injury, and Murray has a realistic chance of snatching the title from Djokovic. But does Murray have what it takes to get there? What about to stay there? And does the No 1 ranking even matter?

(it) will come down to whether Murray believes he belongs there

Since resuming his previously successful relationship with coach, Ivan Lendl, Murray has been on a tear. After achieving a Wimbledon and Olympic Games double for a second time, he made the final of the Cincinnati Masters 1000 and then, after a self-imposed hiatus, returned to win the title in Beijing as well as the Shanghai Masters 1000. He clearly has a level of focus and motivation that we haven't seen from him before and, although he’s not one to predict his future successes, it’s evident that his self-belief is at an all-time high. It has never been an issue of talent for Murray, so now that he’s on a roll both physically and mentally, and Djokovic is distracted with unspecified "personal issues,” I believe only he himself can thwart his aspiration to become the oldest first-time No 1 since John Newcombe in 1974.

If he does manage to get there, the next question will be whether he can stay there. This is a tougher question. It is a phenominal achievement for any player to reach the summit, but the best of the best don't just get there, they stay there for a season or two . . . or, in the case of Federer, nearly six full years! The weight of expectations on the World No 1 can be crushing and Murray has never been considered amongst the game's mentally toughest competitiors. Assuming he does reach the top, what will happen when Djokovic regroups, and perhaps others challenge for the top spot, will come down to whether Murray believes he belongs there or if the demons inside his head convince him otherwise - "you've never been good enough, you just got lucky towards the end of your career." Coach Lendl, who won 33 tour titles before claiming the No 1 ranking, but went on to own it for 270 weeks, will be an invaluable support.

But would reaching No 1 really impact Murray's legacy? Winning a Grand Slam title certainly elevated his place in the history books, and winning multiple Slams and Olympic gold medals have taken him up another notch. Could his star rise any further? Sure. Becoming World No 1, even for a week, would be another significant accolade as it would make him a member of yet another exclusive club. As for retaining the mantle, at 29 he's certainly not going to be dominating for a record breaking timespan. But if he's able to own the No 1 position for a full season or two, he would certainly elevate his status even further. Because for many, Murray's career has promised much but often failed to deliver. If at this late stage he was able to assert some dominance over his accomplished peers, he would be remembered for having one of the most remarkable endings to a career, rather than as a highly talented player that "did well."

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