Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

James Lawton: Andy Murray is cursed to operate in shadow of the game's giants

Andy Murray's Wimbledon dreams were shattered for another year after a straight-sets defeat by world number one Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals

Never mind how Fred Perry performed all those years ago, how would he have done against Rafa Nadal?



It's the best defence of Andy Murray's latest failure to cross the Rubicon of great achievement, because if he has many gifts, including a refined understanding of what it will probably take to win at the highest level, he is also cursed.



Part of it is that he is good enough to separate himself from a string of British sentimental favourites, and most notably the gallant Tim Henman, and thus forfeit the kind of fervent support that the Centre Court bestows upon lost causes. Wimbledon's long sigh is not so much an emotional reaction as a practised confirmation of misplaced optimism.

Murray is too good for soft landings but the curse really kicked in when he faced the last of the best of Roger Federer in two Grand Slam finals. Now the ordeal only intensifies when Nadal suggests, as he did so strongly in the first two sets yesterday, that he is again strong at the injured places. They are separated by one year and seven Grand Slam triumphs. It is a chasm, of course, and this was hard to forget when Murray unfurled some of his best shots – and best concentrated fury – in a defiant third set.



It was never clearer that he is a fine player operating in the shadows of one giant after another.



First Federer, the supreme artist, then Nadal, the pummelling fighter who confirmed his own greatness on yesterday's battleground in 2008. Nadal beat Federer in one of the best, if not the greatest, tennis matches we are ever likely to see. It was also one of the most sublime collisions to thrill and dignify any corner of sport.



You had to think of that match, to recall the competitive heights which both men were required to visit, when Murray made his last, despairing move yesterday.



When he led 3-1 in the third the Centre Court mustered the heart to believe again but it was inevitably fragile belief because the weight and the hunger of Nadal's game was never far away. Under the severest pressure, Nadal makes shots that are not only magisterial, they are statements of will and superior insight about what you have to do to produce the most devastating work.



He showed that against Federer in that match of matches and it suffused his effort again yesterday. Earlier, Tomas Berdych impressively turned Novak Djokovic into a desperate figure long before the end of a third set victory, but he can only have watched his final opponent with a sense of impending doom.



Nadal was masterful in defence and in attack. The line between the disciplines disappeared in a torrent of force and expression.



Will Murray win Wimbledon? We will be asking again next summer and the pressure on him will no doubt move up a notch. But by then Nadal will, surely, be moving into Grand Slam double figures. He will be spoken of as the man destined to transcend even the levels achieved by Federer. Murray, as he does so stoically at times, will be obliged to fight on.



There are worse curses in the world than to be a multimillionaire tennis player of great quality, of course, but you did not have an overwhelming sense of this when the celebrities gathered and a nation once again invested overheated hopes in Andy Murray's ability to cut down an opponent of ever-growing stature.



The odds against him satisfying all that Wimbledon yearning must lengthen still further with each piece of evidence that Rafael Nadal is healthy in his body and programmed in his mind.



Murray didn't lose yesterday. He was simply engulfed, outclassed and possibly confirmed a suspicion that can never have been so strong.



It is that his talent can stretch very far indeed, but never beyond that line which defines the difference between good players and natural-born champions.



Nadal has never loomed so large in that latter category, and so what could Murray do? What could anyone do but their best, despite the overpowering sense that it would never be good enough?



Wimbledon had another disappointment yesterday but maybe it also had a rare visit to a sombre reality. It is one that says that some sportsmen will always operate in a class of their own and that, as of now, their latest hero is simply not one of them.

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