Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - '09 Picks: Murray Backlash Starts Here!
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'09 Picks: Murray Backlash Starts Here! 01/05/2009 - 7:06 PM

AmIt’s five days into the new year and I’ve already broken one of my resolutions, which was to write more often on this blog. Does a “January 5 resolution” have any meaning? Hopefully you’ll forgive me the time away. At least I spent it combing the Hill Country of Texas, a place so rich in memorable food that you can accidentally find a world-class restaurant attached to a gas station along the highway (more on that remarkable event in another post).

I knew I needed to get cracking on the 2009 season when I opened the New York Times this morning and stumbled across, in a neglected back corner of the sports section, the first-round results from Brisbane. That’s how you know tennis has returned—there’s no Opening Day or Tip-Off Classic; the scores just creep, unnoticed, back onto the bottom of the sports pages and into the mind-numbing lists of website wire stories.

You may say that it’s too late to begin making my predictions for 2009 now; that reading about Richard Gasquet’s win yesterday in Brisbane gives me a leg up in the picks department. But I’m going to go ahead anyway—it’s already a given that the Boy Prince is going to win two Slams in ’09, right? On top of that fearless forecast, I’ll make five more for the coming year over the next five days. Here's the first.

Prediction No. 1: Andy Murray will not win a Grand Slam in 2009
Reading about all things Murray over the past few months, I’m starting to be reminded of a New Yorker cartoon from the height of the Monica Lewinsky insanity 10 years ago. It pictured a huge balloon in the shape of the most influential intern in history hovering over Washington, D.C., blocking out the sun and monopolizing everyone’s conversations—no one could get away from her.

With his wins in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi this weekend over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Murray, the world No. 4 and official Most Likely Man to Win His First Grand Slam Soon is now hovering over all conversations about the ATP. A month ago, most of these conversations could be reduced to one question: “Is he going to win in Australia?” Now the chatter seems to have skipped straight to, “Can he become No. 1 this year?” On top of that, we’ve been fed a steady diet of stories about his serious, serious training regimen and his first-class image-polishing machine.

I suppose this is inevitable with a pro who’s covered as thoroughly as Murray. No other player travels with a retinue of journalists the way England's Tim Henman once did and Scotland's Murray does now—it’s a little like the presidential press corps in the States. Murray is ubiquitous in the papers right now, first because he’s been playing well, and second because he’s asked so many darn questions. This has led him to begin trying to control his image, to make it clear right off the bat that no one in the game could possibly be working harder than he is.

This isn’t cynical or inappropriate—if anything it’s a sign of Murray's professional maturity. But how much is too much right now, both for this 21-year-old, and for the rest of the game's players and fans? Is the “inevitability factor” going to cow his opponents in Australia, or will it rebound on him and make him feel like it's either win-it-all or bust? There’s no one I’d like to see win a Slam more than Murray. I love his game and will watch any match he plays. Since he cut back on the chopper-baring tantrums, he’s become one of the sport’s most appealing and intelligent figures, and a guy who has grown both on and off the court each year of his career. His ascendance to the sport’s pinnacle would round out the top of the ATP tour and possibly make it the best we’ve seen in the Open era. Plus, all signs really do point to his making a big breakthrough in 2009. It’s just that Murray is starting to be treated as the favorite in Melbourne, and he isn’t the favorite—Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, Federer, who is looking to tie the Sampras Slam record, and Nadal, the world No. 1 who has never won Down Under, are all just as motivated, just as good, and just as likely to win it. All of them have more experience on the final weekends at majors—Murray has still reached just one Slam semi, at the U.S. Open last September. For him to win this one, he may have to beat two of the top three guys on a big stage, where they’re going to be more comfortable than he is.

At this point, I wonder if Murray will be able to consider any loss in Melbourne, unless it were to come in an all-time classic final against Nadal or Federer, anything other than a failure, or at the very least an irritating delay of plans? If Murray does lose, his momentum will only be slowed temporarily of course, and his season will hardly be lost. But at this time of year a temporary delay in progress at the majors could last a pretty long time. The clay warm-up events heading into the French Open are not going to be the ideal spots for Murray to get rolling again. At Wimbledon, the Federer-Nadal juggernaut, which has reached three straight finals, will be tough to slow. That leaves Flushing Meadows as his most likely venue for Slam success.

It can certainly happen for Murray in Oz (is he more Tin Man or Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion or Dorothy?). I’d say all the members of the Big Four are even money. Murray can take heart from the examples of Nadal and Djokovic, each of whom broke through for their first major titles in just these kinds of highly pressurized circumstances, when they were being touted as favorites coming into the event—Nadal at the 2005 French Open and Djokovic in Melbourne last year. But those guys had one distinct advantage: Nadal didn’t have to face Rafael Nadal in Paris, and Djokovic didn’t have to face himself in Australia. That’s a luxury Murray can’t count on this time.

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Posted by Jesse 01/05/2009 at 07:26 PM

"...both for this 21-year-old who has never made a Slam final"

"...Murray has still reached just one Slam semi, at the U.S. Open last September."

What? Murray lost the final to Federer in the '08 USO. Right?

Posted by avid sports fan (not fully back yet but almost there and still smiling :) 01/05/2009 at 07:26 PM

Hi Steve! happy new year to you. Just noticed as I was reading that you made a mistake in this sentence, he made the US Open final:

"But how much is too much right now, both for this 21-year-old who has never made a Slam final, "

Posted by Northstar's Ex 01/05/2009 at 07:37 PM

Time to hire a fact-checker apparently. Murray HAS reached a Slam final: US Open '08. And he has reached another semi as well: Wimbledon '08.

Posted by crazyone 01/05/2009 at 07:39 PM

Northstar's Ex: while you were correct about Murray's slam final, you need a fact-checker for your last statement: Murray was defeated in the QFs of Wimbledon by Rafael Nadal.

Posted by gauloises 01/05/2009 at 07:43 PM

Hate to flog a dead horse, but seriously?

Posted by Samantha Elin 01/05/2009 at 07:43 PM

Totally agree, I think Rafa, Roger and Novak are better players and are the top contenders.

Posted by gauloises 01/05/2009 at 07:44 PM

Although I will say this neatly articulated my current Murray anxieties, factual erorrs notwithstanding.

Posted by Northstar's Ex 01/05/2009 at 07:44 PM

Crazyone, you are right. I retract that last sentence. :)

Posted by Maria 01/05/2009 at 07:44 PM

Sure Murray has reached a slam final, namely the most recent one.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 01/05/2009 at 07:45 PM

crazyone beat me to it on both counts.

Posted by Sher 01/05/2009 at 07:47 PM


Thank you so much for picking up on this. I have been chatting about this very thing with some people over on TW and it seems like I have to say "hold on, wait, he hasn't actually won any slams yet!" way too often for my tastes.

That said, I think what's in his favour is that he lost that final to Federer and this won't be his first final. If it were, I would have said no way is he winning a slam. But this at least gives him a little experience on the big stage.

And also let's remember that if he's even in part as mature as he seems professionally from your own account, then maybe he's smart enough not to be reading newspapers right now. We have to consider that he's not buying into the hype (yet?) and really is working hard.

What I wonder is what could happen to him if he DOES win in Australia. The hype machine will blow the roof and I don't know if he'll ever be able to win anything again.

Still, I think he is fourth-favourite for AO, exactly as you've listed. If it's not Roger, I would most like him to win it, but whether that would happen -- only time will tell.

Posted by Pspace 01/05/2009 at 07:50 PM

Steve, Ummm....what? I guess the not-reaching-a-final bit is a typo. Also, Djokovic and Nadal had to contend with a certain Mr. Federer in the SF preceding their win. Though, I do agree that a failure at Oz leaves the USO as his next best option, given past performance.

Oh well, since we are talking about an event with around 25% chance of happening, what kind of odds would you be willing to offer a betting man? :)

Posted by Kenneth 01/05/2009 at 08:00 PM

Welcome back to tennis, Steve.

So let's recount, shall we? Nadal, newly minted year end #1, might have a full plate. He's not only got two massive slam titles to defend, he holds and has to defend, the daunting top position. New territory might make him a nervous wreck, or it could be the piece of the puzzle he's been missing to win big on hard courts.

Federer, newly minted #2, detests that distinction. That alone could be enough to propel him back to 3 slam titles per year. Or more. Losing big last year means he has lots of new points to gain this year.

Djokovic hasn't been minted anything lately. While he stunted in Shanghai, the former boy wonder couldn't defend a single title last year. Coming up short in Australia means massive points decrease and a hit in the locker room.

Which brings us to Murray. The newest minted 'boy wonder' has quite a few wins over the top 3, which doesn't spell disaster in any language but does mean some upcoming pressure filled moments. And it seems Murray has developed the mental fortitude to navigate pressure filled moments.

And that's not even mentioning the remaining top ten players.

Australia can't arrive soon enough.

Posted by jeff in rochester 01/05/2009 at 08:04 PM

Isn't it nice to start the new year with so many people pointing to the obvious that does not need a correction or explantion by the author...................please folks get a life!

Posted by Master Ace 01/05/2009 at 08:16 PM

I understand the prediction of Murray going Slamless. So far, he has not won a lot of matches in an economic matter in the first week which fatigues him later. Also, Andy winning Abu Dhabi will motivate Roger and Rafael even more and also Novak, who lost to Andy in Toronto and Cincinnati. If he does win a Slam, he needs to win in a few weeks.

Posted by SS 01/05/2009 at 08:25 PM

Steve,welcome back.You-just-made-my-day!So much talk on Murray...every day,every post...give me a break...and the boy-prince too!I was so delighted to read this,coz at this point I cannot accept anybody else winning the AO...EXCEPT TMF!!!

Posted by avid sports fan (not fully back yet but almost there and still smiling :) 01/05/2009 at 08:29 PM

Steve, there is a good reasoning in saying Murray may or may not win a slam in 09. Looking at the recent result from the tail end of last year till date, it is true that he has built confidence but the other three main contenders will just be as motivated at AO and the other slams with each having their own respective goals and targets. To say he will consistently beat the top three (even top ten) I think is a stretch but yes he can beat them just as the converse is true. Although just looking back at Novak's 2007 into 2008, he also reached the USO 07 final and then went on to win the AO in 08 so from that point his trajectory for winning AO is favorable.

If he does not win AO, how will that influence the rest of his year? That is the one thing I would love to see unfold.

Posted by sara 01/05/2009 at 08:33 PM

I don't think DAndy will win one this year

Posted by NDMS 01/05/2009 at 08:49 PM

I was just reminded of Jim Courier's remark in the USO QF match between Murray and Del Potro. Courier commentating with Bill Macatee said that Murray WILL NEVER win Wimbledon.

I can't believe Courier said that. It's a prediction for a lifetime. At least Steve framed his prediction for a year.

I like Murray's chances in 2 of 4 slams. I think he learned some bitter lessons in the tail end of last year - the most important of which is to stop playing cat and mouse or attrition tennis. And know when to use Hawkeye!!!

Djokovic won AO '08 after making a hash of his first-time appearance in a GS finals (USO '07). The difference between the Djokovic and Murray scenario is that Djokovic made two GS semifinals before the USO final so Djokovic appears to be more experienced in GS.

Posted by misael 01/05/2009 at 09:01 PM

Andy has won his last two matches against Novak, his last match against Nadal and not counting their exibition match has a 4-2 lead against Federer, he also won 5 titles last year, only Nadal won more.

Posted by moxie 01/05/2009 at 09:16 PM

another 2009 prediction: Federer will not win any slams in 2009. god willing!

Posted by Bibi 01/05/2009 at 09:20 PM

With Federer on a downhill and Nadal under pressure and fighting his pains and aches I think Murray and Djokovic have good chance to switch places with the other two.

Posted by dpham 01/05/2009 at 09:45 PM

sharapova is the best

Posted by Divesh 01/05/2009 at 09:50 PM


Look back in 2008 and REMEMBER that Murray DID MAKE it to the US OPEN FINAL...just like Djokovic did a year ago.

Get your facts right before of a semi-professional writer..sorry didn't mean to degrade it but you should have gotten it proof read.

Posted by Joe 01/05/2009 at 10:00 PM

So now Murray is the best player of the world ??
Steve, I do agree, I don't think Murray can win any GS, he won the other day, he plays good, but I don't see him as number 2, neither 3
My prediction: Nadal number 1
Federer & Djokovic 2 or 3
Murray 4

Posted by Jason 01/05/2009 at 10:13 PM

"...and Djokovic didn't have to face himself in Australia."

Yeah, he had to face Federer, who was in the past 10 or 11 (?) slam finals up to that point :-)

I'd take Djokovic over a mono-stricken Federer any day :-)

P.S. He meant to put in a wrong fact, he was testing us ;-)

Posted by 01/05/2009 at 10:24 PM

My predictions for Murray's GS results are:

Australian: He'll make the final after a 5 set semi-final victory over one of the top 3, and win it in 4 over yet another newcomer (possibly Del Potro, unless he's still feeling his injury, or maybe Gilles Simon)

French Open: Quarters, but truthfully it doesn't matter how far he gets, because even if he reaches the final, he'll end up playing Nadal, and we all know how that will turn out :)

Wimbledon: Again, I think he can make the quarters or possibly the semis, but he doesn't have a huge chance of taking down Fed or Rafa here.

U.S. Open: Really, this one to me seems like a toss-up to me. Murray made the final here, beating Nadal in 4 in the semis. The thing is, Nadal's knee was busted, he'd just gotten to the U.S. after playing (and winning) the Olympics, and overall, he wasn't taking amazing care of himself up to that point. I have a strong feeling Nadal will watch out for himself a lot more this summer, and with no trip to Beijing to add on to his load, he'll be a force to reckon with. Obviously, Federer's pretty comfortable with New York, and Djokovic was also in the Semis this year, losing to the eventual champ. If Murray really is able work his butt off in the summer, I see him taking it in 5 off of any of the top 3.

Posted by Karen 01/05/2009 at 10:24 PM

It would be iteresting to see how these four guys be mixed up in the draw of AO. If Djokovic but not Federer got a good result in this week's tournament, Djokovic can be the World No. 2 and the 2nd seed of AO! Then a Nadal-Federer's match may become a semi-final showcase but not a final for the first time in 3 years!!!

2009 is definitely a very interesting year for the tennis world!!! Really looking forward to more great & wonderful matches in the coming days!!!

Posted by Jason 01/05/2009 at 10:25 PM

lol sorry I was the one who just posted at 10:24 PM

Posted by Christopher 01/05/2009 at 10:32 PM

I make no predictions, but I will say I've never been so excited for the Australian Open! If the big four stay healthy it looks to be one heck of a year. If Federer managed to win three or four more slams with these guys playing healthy (and again, that is NOT a prediction), it should at least stop some of the "weak era" talk.

What would be more shocking, if Murray won two slams this year or if Rafa lost RG? I vote for the latter as a bigger surprise if it were to happen.

Posted by Lleytsie 01/05/2009 at 10:37 PM


Andy lost to rodge in the finals and not the semi in NY ?

Posted by indian_fan 01/05/2009 at 10:40 PM

With Nadal, Federer, Djoko, Murray and if Tsonga can stay healthy + upcoming guys like Gilles Simon,Del Petro , men's tennis is hot.
If all these guys play well, 4 different guys can win the Grand Slam. I am a big FedEx fan, his loss to Murray to start the year is a little scary. Frankly, I think the fear factor and aura of invincibility he had is gone. He could fall as low as No 4 if he doesnt watch it. One Grand Slam is probably the max he will win. I am hoping and praying its three slams, but I dont think so. That Sampras record that seemed so easy..... Federer taking it in 2008 with his usual quota of 3 slams seemed so predictable. Its so far away now

Posted by VE 01/05/2009 at 10:55 PM

Much like Steve, I don't think Andy Murray played the US Open final last year. I know he played an energy-sapping 2 day semi against Nadal but then, from what I saw, he sent a shadow of himself to play the final vs. Federer.

I will take issue with the actual intended content though, not for the points of logic Steve brings up, but based on the realities of sport. Frankly, tennis is the ultimate sport of "Any Given Sunday." The fact that Federer and Nadal have been so good and relatively healthy may have obscured this fact, but frankly players with more questionable credentials have won majors (Thomas Johansson, Gaston Gaudio, Richard Krajicek, Petr Korda, etc.) and there's a good reason why.

What I'm fond of telling my American friends who aren't tennis fans is that with tennis we get March Madness four times a year. To translate for those unfamiliar with the American college basketball tournament, you get all of the best players in the sport together four times a year to play a single elimination tournament. Andy Murray doesn't necessarily have to beat Roger Federer, Mardy Fish could take care of that for him; Nadal could fall to Tsonga; Marat Safin might take down Djokovic (Note: all three of these results happened in 2008, two of them in majors). Any given Sunday Andy Murray could see any opponent in a final and against all but three of them, we'd say he's the overwhelming favorite. Against those three, I'd say it's close to even money.

In other words, we're (or to not be presumptuous, I'm) saying Andy Murray is three upsets out of 127 matchups from being a Grand Slam champion...I'd take those odds.

Posted by highpockets 01/05/2009 at 10:57 PM

I dunno, Steve ... I think Murray's got all the right the stuff and he seems to be holding up to all the media hype and pressure very well.

I guess we'll know in the next few weeks, won't we?

What an exciting year we're in for! Just hope we generate more interest in this great game in the process. I wonder how many fans who have the sports tier will stop at TTC and take a look just for the fun of it.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 01/05/2009 at 11:23 PM

I'm picking up something here.. yes, true parity returns to men's tennis, and we end the year with five different "major" champions -- one man wins the Aussie Open, another the French, another Wimby, someone else the USO, and yet a dark horse wins the YEC.

There. Beat that! LOL

Posted by Joe 01/05/2009 at 11:41 PM

Andy Murray played the US OPEN semis against "a shadow of Nadal" who was more dead than alive after he had been playing in all semis and finals every tournament. This is because Murray looked to play with so much energy.

Posted by rudy3 (electricity is for wimps) 01/06/2009 at 12:20 AM

I hope the big 4 make the semis...anything less at this point will be a bit of a disappointment.

Australia always seems to produce a surprise of some sort. And on that theme, it would be cool to see either Baggy or Hewitt play the final weekend.

And I hope Rafa is the last man standing, now that would be tres cool!

Posted by steve 01/06/2009 at 01:07 AM

yes, he made the open final. i was at that match so not sure why i wrote that wrong. no, no one edits these posts as you can tell. i will change it.

any of course nadal and djokovic had to play federer in the semis of their first slam wins. i watched those matches just like you. my point was that that they didn't have to play themselves.

Posted by Blake 01/06/2009 at 01:31 AM

Steve, technically your post wasn't wrong at all. Murray still hasn't made more then ONE semi final at a slam. That he did it at the same slam that he reached the final doesn't magically make it that he's been in two semi's.

He beat a worn down Nadal - and it took him 4 sets (almost 5), and completely floundered to Fed in the final.

You never said he didn't make a final. So technically, jesse, he wasn't wrong :P

P.S. Cheers for the post Steve - always a fan of your predictions!

Posted by Limbo 01/06/2009 at 02:58 AM

I second Christopher above. A healthy Rafa losing in RG will be the biggest upset of all. I will not be that suprise if Murray wins 2 slams though. He sure got the talent and the game for it.

Will be still hoping that Fed can win all 4 this year though.... (yea yea I know, and cows can fly)

Posted by Alex Smith 01/06/2009 at 03:20 AM

As i'm sure you know, from the many posts before mine, Murray got to the '08 USO final. He lost to Federer in straights. And beat nadal in the semi's.

Murray won't become #1 this year, he may get to #3, #2 if he wins a slam. But no #1, that'd take a superhuman effort from our scottish friend.

Posted by alex 01/06/2009 at 04:36 AM

I see Djoker has just gone down in round 1 at Brisbane to Gulbis. He's going to find it hard getting match practice before the Oz Open. But, while many will jump on the wagon now and start putting Murray ahead of Djoker in the pecking order for the slam, I would agree with Steve that the thing really is wide open.

By the way, does anyone know if Djoker had points to defend this week from somewhere?

It would seem there's no chance of him now being No.2 seed for the Open.

Posted by jabeau 01/06/2009 at 06:06 AM

No chance for Murray becoming # 1 this year. According to the ATP site the ranking is

1 Rafael Nadal 13160
2 Roger Federer 10610
3 Novak Djokovic 10590
4 Andy Murray 7050

Ouch! The Djoker has lost? That's quite an upset, isn't it for the would-be number one. What's your prediction for Gulbis, Steve? We don't hear his name too often when it comes to contenders for big things.

Posted by Batz 01/06/2009 at 06:08 AM

Maybe I'm missing something here, but Steve's beef with Murray seems to be that many people are tipping him for the AO, and, erm, that's it. Leaving aside the fact that, (despite what Steve says), Roger is the clear favourite with every bookmaker this side of the black stump, and that Murray himself has made no forecast as to whether or not he will win in Melbourne or even this year, there is simply nothing in the article that backs up the contention that Murray won't win a slam - just a prediction that seems to contrary just for the sake of it.

Poor stuff to be honest - not what I'm used to from Steve.

Posted by Mark 01/06/2009 at 06:26 AM

Alex, Novak has no points to defend this week! Only if he achieves in Brisbane more than Roger did in Abu Dhabi, reach final, he will be the #2 seed in Australia. It will be interesting to see how he starts off the year and the match with Gulbis will indicate so. Novak is eighter good or bad. No average, because that is Novak and he wears his emotions in his sleeves.
As far as Steve's post about Murray is concerned, I agree with it. There is too much hype about Murray. He needs to prove it. He has an elite game, but there is more to winning a slam than having a game. Roger and Rafa can teach him a thing or two.

Posted by myamyam 01/06/2009 at 06:26 AM

hi everybody,
Everyone is on high about Murray's perfomance this year.What if he gets unhealthy if he keeps pushing him to the limits.It happened in the case of many top players when they were young.Because if you see the top ranked players they also have showed performances like what you are seeing from Murray now.Some have done that in the past and they faced injuries and most commonly at the age of 21 & 22.I agree with you all about Murray's chances this year neverthless, I have to make this statement.If you observe playing Federer has not been a cake walk for him.It just happened that fed lost the matches in Dubai,Madrid,Shanghai in 2008 due to the illness and a back injury which gave Andy a lead of 5-2 over Federer.Even when he was not well federer did manage to get a set from him.And if you ask me about Abu Dhabi in 2009 then I would say , well Andy played good tennis in the third set tie breaker 7-6(6).I just want to say , not to be optimistic about Andy winning 2 slams this year.

Posted by alex 01/06/2009 at 06:43 AM

Don't fret folks, Murray's coming through. Why? Cos he's a brilliant tennis player and still improving. That's about it.

Posted by Batz 01/06/2009 at 06:44 AM

Novak has been awarded a wild card for Sydney:

Too late for that number 2 slot before the AO though.

Posted by Rosangel 01/06/2009 at 07:05 AM

I think the complainers about factual errors are missing the point. Of course Steve knows that Murray has reached a Slam final - he didn't say he hadn't. It seems that the point he was making is that Murray has only even reached as far as the semis once in a Slam, his last - he didn't say that he lost at that stage. Part of the argument is that Murray would probably need to win two big best-of-five matches in a row to win the title - all of the other contenders have been in the semis or better multiple times at Slams, and each has already reached the semis or better at each Slam at least once, so obviously they all have more experience at that crucial stage.

Posted by Joe 01/06/2009 at 08:16 AM

It's funny, every time that one player beat to Nadal or Federer, every body think that he can be soon number 1
Let's go to wait what is going on during all year and who really is going to win and to play good. There are 4 GS and many another importants tournaments
Last year Tsonga and Djokovic were the candidates to number one, two years ego Nalbandian, and.... where are they now???

Posted by alex 01/06/2009 at 08:36 AM

Murray looking pretty solid now in his first competitive match, serving to go 5-1 in the first set. This guy Montanes is ranked 10 places higher than Gulbis, by the way:

Posted by Batz 01/06/2009 at 09:43 AM

Murray beats Montanes 2 and 4 - never got out of third gear but good enough.

Posted by federerfan 01/06/2009 at 10:17 AM

The only part I agree with Steve is that, the competition Murray faces is probably much more daunting than when each of the other top3 made their breakthru wins but that in my opinion will only make Murrays win even more spectacular and admirable.

The things that hint at him being the fav at AO for me :
- distinct body language from both rafa and roger that murray is getting to them during the course of a match
- his ability to come back from a very bad h2h against djoker and beat him the last 2 times they played at hc masters events
- his 7-1 h2h against the top3 in the last 8 matches he has played against them, better than any of the other 3
- murrays own body language, as somebody wrote a few years ago, when federer beat agassi, hewitt and roddick etc at the year end championships in 2003, he knew he was #1 although the rankings said he was #2, similarly, murray seems to know he is the better hc player at the moment, if only he can put it together, which is probably 80% in his control and the rest in the hands of the other top3, lets not forget he went 5 sets against the red hot tsonga last year in the first round while rafa succumbed in straights.
It will be a bummer, if he has to play more than one from the likes of gulbis, tsonga, gasquet, simon, roddick, nalby etc just to reach the semis.

Posted by federerfan 01/06/2009 at 10:21 AM

now to point what i think might prevent murray or hold him back is not so much the big match or last weekend experience. But his inability to ration his energies appropriately to each round of a tourney, I thought it a mistake on his part to expend 100% of energy to beat roger at shanghai and take himself out of the championship because of it. If he doesnt learn to wrap up the earlier matches in a business-as-usual fashion and conserve his mental and physical energy tokens to be usedlater,he could beat himself out of the tourney.

Posted by federerfan 01/06/2009 at 10:25 AM

and jabeau, it sounds ridiculous to me that someone says murray cannot become #1 this year, as a mathematical possibility. We are in the first week where points are going to be earned and everyone is at 0 (in the race), so if murray doesnt have a chance, then no one has a chance.

Posted by federerfan 01/06/2009 at 10:27 AM

steve: maybe just, we will be saying after this AO, that murray didnt have to play himself afterall :)

Posted by Steve 01/06/2009 at 10:45 AM

you know you've made it if people are saying you're lucky not to have to play yourself.

yes, ros is right, my point, which may have been convoluted, is that based on late-round experience at slams, murray is still way behind federer and nadal, and just behind djokovic.

someone above mentioned that the only reason i think murray won't win a slam is that he's being tipped to win this one. i'm thinking that may be a lot of pressure for him right now, that he still isn't the real favorite, and that if he does lose, he may lose some momentum.

it's all a lot of "ifs", but it's just a prediction; like we say in our tennis leagues here, it's just for the hell of it.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 01/06/2009 at 11:00 AM

Rats! I knew there was at least one young gun I was overlooking... Ernests Gulbis, of course. To my way of thinking, what's happening here is really a fundamental shift in the geometry of the game. The advances in racquet and string technology coupled with the perfection of the modern stroke production (open stance forehands with extreme trunk rotation and two-handed backhands that are essentially forehands), the court has gotten longer and wider (insance topspin allows the players to hit far bigger than in the past, lengthening the court; same topspin plus two-handed backhands are enabling players to hit amazing short angles, efeectively widening the court). At the same time, due to the new crop of fast, agile, rangy players (6'2 and up), the service boxes are getting narrower. Just watch Federer play Murray to see how few aces Federer gets off the 6'3 Scot.

So, in my mind, the new crop of speedy, two-fisted giants will dominate this year and i the near future. These include:

Andy Murray (6'3")
Novak Djokovic (6'2")
Jo Wilfried Tsonga (6"2")
Ernests Gulbis (6'3)
Juan Martin del Potro (6'6")

Gilles Simon, at 5'11" (I'm skeptical about the official listings) is the small man in the group. As are Nadal and Federer (at 6'1" each).

Andy Roddick (6'2") rounds out the group, but I believe this will be his last year in the top 10, if he lasts that long.

I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating. I was at the 2006 Cincinnati Masters Series event, and watched Murray from 30 ft. away and literally bumped into Nadal (actually, he bumped into me on his way to the practice court), and these gentlemen are larger than their oficial stats suggest. I stand 6'1" (down from 6'2" in my prime), and Nadal was an inch taller, I am sure. Murray is another two inches taller still. So I'd put Nadal at 6'2" and Murray at 6'4".

At any rate, you get the picture.

Posted by skip1515 01/06/2009 at 11:06 AM

VE's point, made above, that calculating anyone's chance of success based on whether or not they can beat Nadal/Federer/Djokovic assumes no one *else* beats any of those three, is not only very true but a sign of how high a bar Nadal and Federer have set over the past few years.

I don't know if we've ever experienced a number 1 and 2 who've so dependably defended their seedings, especially when both have been in the same tournament. (I'm speaking of the men's tour here, not the WTA.) In fact, that's one aspect of Djokovic's career to date that lags behind the other two: more questionable losses early on the various big stages.

Which is not to say his career has been shabby, but simply that theirs have been other worldly.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 01/06/2009 at 11:15 AM

I agree wholeheartedly with your points, skip.

Federer and Nadal have been true to their rankings and seedings in a way that I cannot recall, and I've been watching the game since the first days of the Open Era.

Happy new year to you.


Posted by Subhadeep 01/06/2009 at 11:32 AM

any live links to the Doha match Federer is playing?

Posted by Viv 01/06/2009 at 12:42 PM

At least one former player agrees with you, Steve. Frew McMillan, commentating this week for Eurosport, expressed doubt that Murray currently has the mental strength to successfully come through seven consecutive matches at Slam level in '09.

I think the real downside of all the present hoohaa and expectation is that it overlooks the fact that - following his early demise there in '07 - the guy should simply have nothing to lose in Melbourne. But of course that's only my humble opinion.

Posted by Viv 01/06/2009 at 12:43 PM

Duh. Obviously I meant "early demise there in '08".

Posted by ava 01/06/2009 at 01:07 PM

I agree with the article. Even though Murray has made it to a GS final will he have enough mental strength for taking the final and biggest leap-winning the final? A Grand Slam is no exhibition. I expect Federer and Nadal to do very well and I hope one of them takes the title. (Hopefully Rafa)
Novak...I dunno. I just don't see him defending. Murray's got a chance but will he take it? Dying to know.

Posted by Well Left 01/06/2009 at 01:18 PM

Sher wrote:
>What I wonder is what could happen to him if he DOES win in Australia. The hype >machine will blow the roof and I don't know if he'll ever be able to win anything again.

HaHa, kind of like Djokovic right now.

Posted by 01/06/2009 at 01:21 PM

Glad you wrote this article Steve. Since Murray was really the talk of the offseason (and last week's exhibition). Like Djokovic last year, let's see how he performs when he's EXPECTED to win. Djokovic did well at the AO in avoiding the sophomore slump, but he did fall off midway when there was the week-to-week pressure of reaching finals. He clearly liked being the hunter not the hunted and proved that point when he won Shanghai (he was back being the hunter since nobody was paying him any attention).
So it will be interesting to see how Murray deals in that situation.
My predictions:

AO: Rafa d. Murray
RG: Rafa d. whoever it is
Wimby: Roger d. Rafa
US Open: Roger d. Djokovic

Posted by tina 01/06/2009 at 01:24 PM

I'm not a Murray fan, but he's in the same position Djokovic was a year ago - a slam finalist in 2007, but no winner's trophy. So I wouldn't count Murray out.

I know I'm stating the obvious, but if tennis were predictable, we wouldn't be so interested. I loved every surprise last year's AO sprung on us. There might be all sorts of freak upsets and scares that we can't even imagine now. Who might be this year's Tipsarevic? Or Tsonga?

Posted by Ryan 01/06/2009 at 01:42 PM

What's with the new bizarro rankings?

Posted by Divesh 01/06/2009 at 02:12 PM

The way I saw Fed against Murray the other day in that exhibition, it seems like Fed has definitely lost his mojo, especially on the forehand side. He seems to keep trying to pull the trigger, and unlike 2005 or 2006, more errors come out, probably because the lack of great footwork that he possessed when he was younger. Also, he just seems to come to the net a little too much against one of the best returner, overusing that tactic and losing more points.

I'd pick Federer as the third or forth ranked player at the end of this year. Winning a major will be very hard for him. Most promising place is still wimbledon for him, but I'd bet my money on Rafa at French and Wimby.

Posted by ellen 01/06/2009 at 02:15 PM

I bet Murray will win Aussie Open, Fed will win back Wimbledon, Nadal keeps his French and the U.S. Open will be wide open for Gang of Four.

Posted by banti 01/06/2009 at 02:35 PM

Crap now that you said this and knowing how bad your predictions are.. We might as well hand over a slam for the Scottish bruit.. Its a sure thing, Murray is winning now.

I think if Fed doesn't step, or Novak does not make the final, Murray will take the Australian.. Fed needs to get angry at this kid, and do it fast.

Posted by Alice 01/06/2009 at 02:40 PM

As a Nadal fan, Murray makes me nervous. In Murray's USO semi win over Nadal he seemed to be able to win a number of the long rallys, which broke down one of Nadal's strengths. He also seemed to out-think Nadal in that match, throwing in some new strategic plays like standing way back to receive Nadal's serve. Murray has followed up on that win with some other impressive performances.

Posted by Sher 01/06/2009 at 03:12 PM

[VE's point, made above, that calculating anyone's chance of success based on whether or not they can beat Nadal/Federer/Djokovic assumes no one *else* beats any of those three, is not only very true but a sign of how high a bar Nadal and Federer have set over the past few years.]

That is so true. It's not NORMAL to be #1 and #2 for as long as these two have been.

Posted by Sher 01/06/2009 at 03:16 PM

[- murrays own body language, as somebody wrote a few years ago, when federer beat agassi, hewitt and roddick etc at the year end championships in 2003, he knew he was #1 although the rankings said he was #2, similarly, murray seems to know he is the better hc player at the moment, if only he can put it together]

that's true, and is one of things of note about the guy -- that he has this unshakable inner confidence that does not appear to depend on how well liked he is by the public a la Djokovic -- but confidence comes and goes

Posted by nic 01/06/2009 at 03:33 PM

Think I disagree there, Steve old buddy old pal, I reckon Murray is the stuff all right, saturated Brit hype or no.
He's improved his game year on year, his mental has improved in leaps and bounds and he has beaten the top two consecutively in their most recent encounters.
Djokovic has imploded and his curve is downward and getting steeper. Echoes of Marat Safin.
Nadal is crocked. Every year he adds a new strap or bandage to his body to keep playing. His physical game enables him to play from February through to the end of Wimbledon before his body starts to rattle and overheat. Last year, desperate for the number one, he pushed it really hard into the autumn. Goal achieved, but I expected the physical toll to be too high for a sustained run at the top.
Federer is telling everyone he wants to regain No. 1 and win another Slam this year. You have to have goals in life, but once you lose No. 1 in tennis, it's almost always an inexorable slip back down the rankings into retirement. Why should it be any different for Federer?
Well, in his favor: The last match against Murray was an exhibition with no ATP Points and Federer commented "I was able to try lots of new things" afterward - if it's not bravado, he should have a good shot at Australia. Also in his favour: see comments on Nadal and Djokovic above.
Against: It's never the obvious ones that pip you at the post. There's always some unknown 20 yr old on the cusp waiting to do a Boris Becker or John McEnroe and go on a carefree run through a Slam and ruin your life's work. The above mentioned Safin did it to the man Federer measures himself against, Pete Sampras, and don't you just know there's another youngster just waiting to happen to Federer too.

Still, like you said, it's just a prediction. For the hell of it :))

Posted by djoker 01/06/2009 at 03:49 PM

"confidence comes and goes"

kinda like DJokovic last year. VERY confident. now he's under more pressure. more worried. before he thought he was invincible, now he pretends to think so, but deep down there is a bit of lack of confidence there. and this added brisbane loss can't be a great help either. But part of being a pro is dealing with the pressure, the losses, and being able to overcome that. i think the djoker can do it, but the only question is how fast. and what is this about his new racket? is he really gonna blame his loss on a new raquet? who told him to change his racket anyway?

this year could surprise us a lot. as steve says there will be more pressure on Murray than Djokovic because for the past few months, murray has been performing much better than djoko. but novak has more experience in that area. throw in fed and nadal and you have the most unpredictable grand slam. we shall see what happens and hopefully djoker can up his game to make this more interesting.

Posted by djoker 01/06/2009 at 03:52 PM

oh and whoever said djoko has "echoes of safin" they're kinda right. But i think the situation is very different and the slump is not as steep as safin's.

Posted by true love 01/06/2009 at 03:57 PM

Did anyone else watch Madrid, Paris and Shanghai Last year? TMF cannot hold serve for longer than one set! After that 1st set the wheels start to come off and he has a constant struggle to keep his backhand in the court. (Calling DR. Allen Fox!) Against Murray in Madrid, he was playing so carefully he had nothing to pressure Andy with! I'm sorry if this bothers you but the Wood racquet is Ancient history and so is an indomitable Federer. Young Guns, To the Fore! Time marches on and please Steve,if we want gastronomical details of the Texas hill country, we'll read @#$%*& Bon Apetite.

Posted by asdf 01/06/2009 at 03:57 PM

Murray could win the USO but not the AO. Rafa will definitely win the FO and Wimbledon. AO will go to Djoko or Fed.

Posted by dynamic duo 01/06/2009 at 04:02 PM

i was just wondering had nadal and federer ever had a "sophomore slump" as they describe djokovic right now? because as far as I've seen, the duo have consistently performed amazingly.

Posted by adicecream 01/06/2009 at 04:21 PM

I don't believe Murray will win a slam this year. I don't see him as physically or mentally touch enough yet. But....who knows? As several have said before me, that's why we watch tennis.

I'm so happy to have real tennis and real tennis conversation going on.

Posted by Pirathepan 01/06/2009 at 04:36 PM

Limbo thanks for hoping federer to win all 4 slams this year. I hope the same.Don Budge and Rod Laver are the only ones who acomplished the callendar slam in the men's side. Roger Federer had ample chances in 2004,06,07 to make a callendar slam. I believe this year is his last chance before he wears down and may not be able to win a slam. For Federer's genius ability, he should at least win the french open once and accomplish a calledar slam. For all those who rely on statistics to say who gonna win slams. That isn't the key. Anyone can win a grand slam, if they put enough heart and guts into it like jimmy connors.I know statisticly Roger is not performing as he used too. I believe that he will get four slams. And for all those who believe Roger can't win one slam then your predicition are undefined.

Posted by Andrew Broad 01/06/2009 at 05:11 PM

Murray will not win a Grand Slam this year - but he might well win a Major!

Posted by jabeau 01/06/2009 at 06:46 PM

federerfan - all predictions are somewhat ridiculous. What do we know? All is just an assumption based on... hm past experience. We're just talking and killing time before the first tournament of the year that matters starts.
Murray can become # 1. Of course he can, it's just highly unlikely this year. I wish him luck.

Posted by Andrea 01/06/2009 at 07:50 PM

my gut is that fed will win OZ. this was a sore spot for him last year so my feeling is that he will blast thru and take it.

murray is definitely looking good in the past few months. can he maintain it? he is certainly giving fed a run for his money and their match in shanghai was amazing. i like watching fed having to work.

even though nadal *faded* during day two at the USO semi against murray, it was how murray decided to pick nadal's ball off the court that gave him the chance. unlike fed who seems to be buried in the ad court corner when nadal starts pummeling his backhand, murray waited for the ball to bounce at the right height and blast it back. mind you, murray has a two handed back hand so it gives him this luxury of power, but even with nadal at 100% i think andy still would have won that match.

Posted by jb (yeah live tennis!!) 01/06/2009 at 09:23 PM

Geez I'm glad your back to posting again steve!

i think murray winning a slam this year could well happen... but i'm more certain 2010 will be when he comes fully into his own. As he's left off his mopiness and railing at his camp during matches, I've come down further and further into his corner.

He's growing up, and I do think he's smart, he's focused and dang it, he wants to be at the top of the game. i also think he's patient, and that patience is allowing him grow his game at his pace.

Posted by Pedro 01/06/2009 at 09:54 PM

It is obvious that Murray has the chops to beat anyone anytime on a hard court. The question is this: Is he athletic enough to win a slam? Only a healthy Roger or Rafa have this consistent edge over the rest.

Posted by Joe 01/06/2009 at 10:43 PM

Nadal is looking great, he can make a great season on HC
To Murray become#1 has to work very hard, to reach the number 2 and 1 is not so easy, he is playing good, but to beat Nadal more than three times is very difficult and of course Rafa wants to keep his very deserved position#1 for long time
I don't see Murray athletic and tempered enough to keep that pressure

Posted by S G 01/06/2009 at 11:14 PM

I watched the semi and final of the exhibition tournament that Murray won last week. He did a lot of running against Nadal in that final. It will be very tough, to say the least, to keep running ball after ball against Nadal("fresh") or Fed for five sets in the AO. I just done see it...

I will agree with few of other posts, his best chance is the US Open.

Posted by Andrew Miller 01/06/2009 at 11:58 PM

I think the first thing that Judy Murray is going to do is post Mr. Tignor's blog on Andy Murray's wall.

And the second thing that's going to happen is that Andy Murray will do better than he did last year at OZ. Hopefully, that is his aim, because 1st round losses, even to Tsonga-Mania, is not going to get him anywhere!

Posted by 01/07/2009 at 01:26 AM

your an idiot steve

that is all

Posted by Azhdaja 01/07/2009 at 02:54 AM

Hey Steve,

you're the only one who really puts his brain to work in tennis world. Definitelly, you put some logic in here. (Unlike many other analysts).

In order to win Aussie, Murray has to make TWO upsets and to avoid TWO other upsets (top ten players)!! That's lot of conditions to met, or in other words the odds are heavily against him.

When won Ao last year, Djoker made ONE upset and avoided ONE. Nadal made ONE upset and avoided ONE at the RG and Wimby. Federer didn't make any upsets and avoided TWO.

Now in order to win AO, Djoker has to make at least ONE upset and avoid ONE or TWO. Nadal has to make no upsets and has to avoid TWO or THREE. Federer has to make ONE upset and avoid TWO or THREE. So, now compare that to Murray's odds and is easy to figure that his chances of winning are low. I wouldn't bet on him.
So by giving 2 points for making upset and 1 point for avoiding it, I came to the following odds:

Last year winning champs odds:

Djokovic....1:3 (AO)
Nadal.......1:3 (RG)
Nadal.......1:3 (W)
Federer.....1:2 (USO)

now at AO (depending on the draw):


It's easy to see that Rafa is the most likely champ and Murray is least likely, if not possible.


Posted by Mark 01/07/2009 at 03:07 AM


Hate to beat a dead horse............but Murray made the US Open final in September. Maybe you've been eating too much of the is "world class" food next to gas stations in Texas... I'm assuming you're referring to the bar-b-que....correct?

I do agree with you that Murray will NOT win a slam this year.

I'm going with Tsonga in Australia
Federer in Paris and Wimbledon
Nadal at the US Open

Posted by SOX 01/07/2009 at 05:25 AM

hi everyone...murray had a great 2008 but for me it was his lucky break and i don't think it will be happen again...rafa will be still the man for 2009 although the likes of roger and novak not to mention andy (murray) will be holding their grounds but in the end the glory will be for rafa...andy will win some tournaments but
it will not be those prestige tournaments...

Posted by Stride 01/07/2009 at 06:39 AM

Safin will win AO '09

Posted by coach bot 01/07/2009 at 10:15 AM

any player as talented as the big three-nadal,federer,djokovic-is a breakthrough slam.while murray does not have the muscles of nadal,the finesse of federer, and the doggedness of djokovic,he has for his strength over the others his more "intelligent" way of playing .it shows in his shot selection and the timing of it.i say he is at par with the big three and has equal chances of winning down under or on grass and the USO.forget clay,it's owned by nadal.

Posted by imjimmy 01/07/2009 at 01:08 PM

As usual, very nice piece Steve. Although I would think that Murray will win more this year.

Here's my prediction:The winners of the Slams in 09 will remain as in 08 - just replace Nole with Murray in the Australian Open. Murray's game has been a revelation, and I wouldn't be surprised if he won 2 or at least 1 slam this year. His strongest chances, of course, are on the hard courts.

Grass: I am sure Rafa would be able to defend Wimbledon. Last yr was a case of breaking that jinx of beating Roger on grass. The only obstacle for Rafa was really believing that he could do it. As it is, he almost threw away that match after having a huge lead. This year, expect him to be more confident and beat Roger in 4 sets, should they meet again. This year is particularly critical for Rafa: it remains to be seen how well he copes up with being No 1, and whether he could again bring the drastic improvement to his game that he did last year b/w the French and the Wimbledon.

As for Roger, I think he should be able to win at least one of Australian Open and the US Open. I have been pleasantly surprised by how well his game is holding up, how comfortable he's been with the number 2 spot, and how much he seems to still enjoy the game. Overall a very exciting year for tennis.

Posted by Mike 01/08/2009 at 02:15 AM

just make it easy-

my slam predictions:

Mur/ Nad/ Nad/ Mur!

Posted by stenelli 01/09/2009 at 07:52 AM

Was it drugs or a hangover that prompted this one Steve? I will disagree with you and say that Murray will supplant Federer as #2 and give Nadal a run for #1. He has at least one Slam win in him this year.

Posted by Nids 01/10/2009 at 01:52 AM

Murray is for sure going to taste his first ever Grand Slam success this year..It's just a matter of time before he does that.I'll place my money on him for the AO!!His best surface is hardcourt and his current momentum wil surely help him a lot in the AO.I predicted him to reach the AO Finals last year, in a "Pick the Winners"competition .Unfortunately he lost to an inspired Tsonga in the 1st rd itself..But i think he's gonna make it this year!!!

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