Cooney and Black

Andy Murray was beaten by a play actor. But how could he look across to his box for advice when his principal adviser was one of the biggest chokers on the women’s circuit?

Andy Murray

bynigelclarke

NOW we know why so many people in tennis believed it was a wrong move for Andy Murray to appoint a woman as his coach.

Amelie Mauresmo, as befitting a double Grand Slam champion, was well equipped to advise Murray how to hit a backhand, correct a forehand, and also how to be tactically superior.

What she could never do, and never will do, is to install in the Scot the hard-headed mental ability to be a consistent champion.

And that is because as a player herself, despite winning Wimbledon and the Australian Open, Mauresmo was never mentally tough herself.

Her career – she rose to No. 1 in the world – was always punctuated with nightmares of mental anguish. In short, she cracked and imploded under pressure, never quite able to handle the big moments at the highest level.

Tennis is played with a racket and a ball, but more importantly it is played in the head. Murray allowed Novak Djokovic to cheat and win the Australian Open, and neither he nor Mauresmo could do anything to stop him.

How could Murray look across to his box for advice when his principal adviser was one of the biggest chokers on the women’s circuit?

Mauresmo won at the All England Club and in Melbourne, but she was seriously deficient when it came to competing for the title she wanted more than any other: the French Open was the jewel in her crown, but she failed to break into the jewellery box.

Murray, to all intents and purposes, was on his own out there, and had no answer to the gamesmanship and drama-queen behaviour of a man with a reputation of taking sportsmanship to the very limits.

Some years ago in New York, a vanquished Andy Roddick was asked about the Serb’s alleged ankle injury. He replied: “Isn’t it both of them? A bad back and a hip. And cramp, bird flu, anthrax, SARS, a common cough and, oh, what about a bad cold? He’s either quick to call a trainer, or he’s the most courageous guy of all time.“

Murray will have to take a long look at himself and ask why he allowed Djokovic’s alleged play-acting to affect him so badly that he lost concentration and focus.

That would never have happened had Ivan Lendl still been in his corner. Lendl was another who suffered with nerves, so much so he would throw up in the locker room before a match.

But he invented the stare, the hard-eyed focus that would take him to an altogether different level of commitment. Even when Murray had won well, Lendl would be in his ear on the way back to the locker room, giving the Scot a mouthful of snarling criticism.

It worked. Murray won the US Open and Wimbledon under his guidance, and on both occasions he beat Djokovic in the final. So what made him regress to the bad old days when, by his own admittance, he was playing the best tennis of his career?

Murray still tends to go walkabout, still tends to get distracted, and Djokovic is the master at playing on any mental weakness.

Brit baiter Pat Cash said on television: “Murray hasn’t put up a great fight, instead he absolutely collapsed. Sorry, you don’t put a rose tint on this.
He melted down and the bottom line is that the situation got too much. He must tell himself that he shouldn’t do this again, but it’s the same thing that has been happening in his whole career.

“He’ll be thinking: ‘I’m a disgrace, I’ve let everyone down.’ He’s a seriously good player, but if he wants to be great, he has to fix this element in his game.”

Of course, Murray is no stranger to the antics that once saw Virginia Wade label him “a drama queen.” He has often gone down as if taken out by a sniper, only to recover, carry on and win. But Murray had an excuse in the past year.

He genuinely had back problems that ultimately needed surgery, and he has only just fully recovered. But he should have seen what Djokovic was up to.

Instead, he allowed himself to get distracted by the kind of Oscar-winning actions he has himself been all too familiar with, and Mauresmo’s reputation for being brittle meant she didn’t know how to deal with it.

Djokovic has been doing it for years. As soon as he comes under pressure, out comes a performance worthy of something from Homeland. Andy fell for it, and it has cost him another Slam title.

Maybe, in a way, it was a back-handed compliment from the Serb. He turns on the drama against players he is threatened by, and laughs all the way to the trophy bank.

Will Murray recover? Who can he turn to? The French Open is the next big test, the one title Djokovic wants more than any other. Murray should enrol in the actors’ school. He might learn something Mauresmo can never teach him.

 
 
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Beth Wilson

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