Sport Tennis Andy Murray: The Scotsman’s frustrating Australian Open curse

Andy Murray: The Scotsman’s frustrating Australian Open curse

Murray is at a loss when asked why he has not won in Melbourne. Photo: Getty
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For Andy Murray, the Australian Open has proved as elusive as a good haircut.

The sight of the Scot’s habitual folding across the net from Novak Djokovic under the bright lights of Rod Laver Arena has become as familiar a Melbourne scene as late trams and heavily tattooed café workers.

Now, finally, he may have the right aces up his sleeve.

Last year was a watershed for Murray: the birth of his first child, a second Wimbledon title, Olympic gold and the assumption of the number one ranking – in singles and doubles – made sure of that.

He was even awarded a knighthood by the Queen in her New Year’s honours list, something he said was “great” but “a bit strange”.

After a period of injury-induced stagnation following his Grand Slam breakthroughs of 2012-13, Murray reunited with coach Ivan Lendl and enjoyed his best ever year, winning nine titles.

It’s a cruel irony that Murray has consistently played some of the finest tennis of his career in Melbourne, yet never emerged a winner.

Five times he’s been in the final here, and five times he’s come up short.

In the first of those, back in 2010, he was played off the court by a near-prime Roger Federer.

Since then, it’s been Djokovic in his way.

Djokovic leads Murray in career meetings 25-11, but at the Australian Open the ledger is a brutal 5-0: finals in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, and a semi-final in 2012.

A familiar sight at Melbourne Park as Djokovic celebrates and Murray ponders. Photo: Getty

That last-four clash was actually Murray’s closest showing – going down 7-5 in the fifth set after a match lasting four hours and 50 minutes.

Aside from that, Djokovic’s victories here have been all rather – and there’s no polite way to put this – straightforward.

Sure, Murray might have lifted a set here or there, but there was always a distinct whiff of inevitability about Djokovic’s successes.

And that must be the concern in the Murray camp.

There is an argument to be made that, were it not for the wear and tear accrued by his tortuous playing style, Djokovic would still be world tennis’ top dog.

Still, there is a swagger about present-day Murray – no doubt the achievements of 2016, capped off with his brilliant win over Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals, have given him a quiet confidence that his best is good enough.

Last week in Doha, though, Djokovic again proved the better man, but he had to lay it all on the line to get a tough, three-set win.

Notoriously prickly, Murray’s reacquaintance with Lendl, even in a part-time capacity, seems to do wonders for his mental state.

As with their initial golden period, Lendl’s presence coincides with an improvement in Murray’s second serve, long seen as a weakness.

Interestingly, Lendl holds an unfortunate record his charge may be in danger of emulating: he has lost the most Grand Slam singles finals in the modern era with 11. Murray has lost eight.

Lendl and Murray at work together. Photo: Getty

Lendl, more than anyone else in the world, understands the demons created by consistent defeats in big matches.

As a coach he exudes a monk-like calm, and it clearly rubs off on Murray, who appears far more relaxed when the eight-time Grand Slam titlist is part of his crew.

“That’s the good thing about having someone like Ivan on my team, he’s been in this position before: getting to number one,” Murray said last week.

“Obviously getting there is hard, staying there is more difficult because you need to keep finding ways to improve.

“Players keep getting better, I’m getting older as well.

“It’s good having someone with his experience in my corner to help me through this period.”

Murray is ranked number one in the world, but most major bookies have both he and Djokovic equal favourite for the title.

That’s an acknowledgement that for all the glory of the past 11 months, a win in Australia is still his white whale.

Sir Andy won’t get a better time to strike.

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