It’s fair to say that Andy Murray’s chances of winning any tournament usually depend on the form of Novak Djokovic. The Briton has done an excellent job of establishing himself as one of the world’s best, but he has not been able to move out of the shadow of the Serb.
The recent Wimbledon championships showed a rare glimpse of “Nole” at his weakest. Having won the French Open only a month earlier, making him the holder of all four majors in the process, he was beaten—and deservedly so—by the 28th seed, Sam Querrey, in the third round. It was his earliest exit from a major in seven years.
Rio Olympics Will Show Attitudes of Djokovic and Murray after Wimbledon
Throughout the match, Djokovic did not look his usual self. He was certainly not at his fittest and grabbed his left shoulder in discomfort on a number of occasions. His cagey press conference after the defeat did no good in quashing rumours of problems on and off the court. As well as the obvious physical problems, he looked mentally exhausted. He stated that he would miss Serbia’s upcoming Davis Cup tie against Great Britain to take a break away from tennis, and spend more time with his family in the process.
All this played into the hands of Murray. He promptly won his second Wimbledon title, ending his three-year wait for a major. Unlike his rival, he looked fresh and at his best mentally for the duration of the tournament. He only dropped a set in one match, against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, which proved to be a very challenging one. Murray looked more up for the challenge than ever.
Tsonga clawed back from two sets down to level the score, but the Glaswegian was too fired up to let down the home crowd. He shook his finger and said: “There’s no way I’m losing this match.” He was good as his word, tearing his opponent to pieces as he won the final set 6-1. Murray showed mental strength rarely seen before from a British tennis player.
Wimbledon showed the world no.1 and no.2 at the opposite ends of the spectrum. With a busy summer ahead, Djokovic will not want to let this run of form continue. The next few weeks, not least the Olympics, will show whether or not his abject performance was a one-off.
At the start of the year, a determined-looking Djokovic stated that winning gold in Brazil was “at the top” of his priorities. Having completed his set of Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros earlier in the year, the Olympic title is the glaring omission on his CV. A bronze medal and a disappointing fourth place is all he has to show for thus far. But in Rio de Janeiro he finds an ideal stomping ground to put this hoodoo to bed.
The tournament will played on hard court, the surface on which Djokovic is the most dominant of all. The intense heat will too play into his hands, as he has something of a physical edge over most of his opponents. But if he is to take advantage, he cannot afford to go into the tournament with any issues lingering. If he does, the problems will be clear for all to see.
Murray will go into the Olympics with much less pressure on his shoulders. He already has a gold medal, won in front of a jubilant home crowd in London at the 2012 games. That golden hour, in which he beat the great Roger Federer in straight sets, was perhaps the turning point in his career. He went on to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open a month later, and then his first Wimbledon title in the summer of 2013.
It will have come as a surprise to many, then, that it took him three years to win his third major, and that in 2014 and 2015 he only reached the final at one Grand Slam. The Davis Cup win last year went some way to making up for his disappointment. However, Murray must now make up for lost time.
After Murray won Wimbledon in 2013, it was as if he’d completed a task as great as the labours of Heracles all in one go. Becoming the first home champion in 77 years at SW19 was no mean feat, and it clearly exhausted him. This was shown in his straight-sets defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka in the US Open quarter-final a few weeks later. There are parallels which can be drawn between Murray’s state of mind then and Djokovic’s now. Fresh off the back of two definitive moments in their respective careers, both burned out a bit.
Back then, Murray could afford to relax, but he does not have that luxury this time. His biggest rival is ailing for the first time in years and he must capitalise. Since neither will feature in the Davis Cup quarter-final between Serbia and Great Britain, the Rogers Cup is next on the agenda for the top two players in the world. This will give an insight into Djokovic’s form and state of mind before the Olympics. If he is still struggling for whatever reason, Murray must be ruthless.
Murray will not scoff at the opportunity to retain his gold medal. But that is not his top priority in the next few months. He must use his second Wimbledon title to spur him on to further victories in Grand Slams, just like he used the momentum from the London Olympics to break his duck in 2012. If Djokovic isn’t at his best, he has no excuse but to be victorious in Flushing Meadows and beyond.