2017: The Year of Andy Murray
'Who's Afraid of Andy Murray in 2017'? At the moment, everyone on the circuit.
“I don’t mind failing. Failing’s okay, providing that you’ve given your best and put everything into it... That’s it. I just have, kind of, not being afraid of failing, sort of learning from all of my losses. That’s what I’ve done throughout most of my career.”
Andy Murray has always been a star close within the reach of the ordinary mortals who watch tennis. He is easy to identify and empathise with. He has failed, publicly and often. He has expressed his emotions openly, but borne his losses with grace.
Therefore, now that his day has finally arrived, and 2016 has settled into the history books, it is time to take a good look at the coming year to see whether 2017 could be the Year of Andy Murray.
A Year in Stats
Murray's stats showed improvement in every field in 2016. Already a fearsome returner, reputed to be one of the best ever in the game, Murray improved his break-point conversion rate to 45% against a career average of 43%. His second return winning percentage rose a point to move to 56%. He also improved dramatically on the percentage of return games won, converting 37% to a career record of 32%.
Murray worked hard on his serve this season, and it showed improvement in every department. His first serve percentage went up two points to 60% and he gained one point to move to 76% on first serve points won.
He improved his second serve win percentage to 54%, up from 52%. This was a crucial increase, as he has often struggled in the past with a very weak second serve. Murray saved about 66% of break points faced, a good 3% up from his career average, and won 85% of his service games and 67% of total service points(as opposed to career standards of 82% and 65% respectively).
All these statistics show a range of marginal to distinct improvements in every department of the Murray game, and all these together provided the edge that he has lacked in crucial moments of crunch matches. Viewed together with his undying will to win, the percentages tipped over just enough in Murray's favour for him to put together one of the greatest comebacks in the history of men's tennis.
In 2017, Murray is set to continue working with Ivan Lendl, the man who changed the way he approaches tennis matches, bringing increased confidence and better big match play to the court. Murray's work on his fitness has also been phenomenal, and it would do him good to hit with Rafael Nadal, as he did this year.
The ability to stay in great shape across consecutive tournaments, at the end of a long season, was what got Murray his prized world No.1 rank. If he is able to keep it going in 2017, he is likely to edge out his competitors, especially with Roger Federer and Nadal returning to the game after long injury lay-offs.
Mentally, too, he has been much tougher than perhaps any other player on the ATP World Tour, and if Djokovic does not recover form and inspiration quickly, for the first time in their storied careers, Murray will hold an advantage over him in that department.
No.1 Player in the World
2016 was marked by Murray's ascent to singles world No.1 in men's tennis, a feat he was able to convert to the year-end No.1 position, only the 17th man to do so. Murray also became the second-oldest first-time world No.1, after John Newcombe in 1974, when he ascended to the position at the Paris Masters aged 29 years, 5 months and 23 days. It is likely that Murray will hold on to the ranking for at least a little while longer.
The reasons for this are aplenty. Djokovic had an incredible start to the year, collecting trophies at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, and a quarter final at Dubai, winning a total of 4340 points during the period.
During the same time, Murray was able to reach only the final of the first tournament, winning 1200 points and a further 90 up to Indian Wells. So, while Novak has a lot of points to defend, Murray only stands to gain.
Further, the return of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will add more competition to the mix, and Murray is relishing the challenge, hoping to meet his old rivals once they have recovered their touch.
What Murray will look to achieve, more than anything, would be an Australian Open victory. Having lost in five finals at the event, the only man to do so, with four of the losses coming to Djokovic, Murray will be hungry for revenge and vindication.
Having achieved a newfound sense of some parity with Djokovic, Murray will be fighting to claim his first Australian Open title, and with it the third of the four Grand Slams. Murray's record in Slam finals remains rather poor, with only three wins from 11 finals. If he is to correct the balance then he will have to bring a much tougher mental game to the title stage, and in all likelihood beat Novak Djokovic in the final, something that he has struggled to do all his career and especially in the past couple of years.
Without overturning his dismal head-to-head records against the other members of the 'Big Four', Murray's hopes of being the top player in 2017 may end up turning to dust again.
All-Court Tennis and the Emergence of a Complete Player
Murray's 2016 clay court season was a continuation of the wonderful improvements he had shown on the surface the previous year, while working with French ace Amelie Mauresmo.
He won the Italian Open at Rome for the first time, and reached the final of the Madrid Masters, which he had taken the previous year.
At Roland Garros, he became only the 10th player in the Open era to reach all four Grand Slam finals. Murray's early career records on the dirt had never suggested such an outcome to be possible, and in many ways his astounding clay court season served as a springboard to his incredible second-half surge.
If Murray continues his upward rise, 2017 could see the Scot becoming an even bigger force on the red clay. He now only has the Monte Carlo Masters to win in order to complete his clay Masters 1000 set, and a three-set defeat to Nadal had enough positives to be taken into the following year.
While Murray's serve showed increased effectiveness, he struggled with movement, at least in the early parts of the tournaments. Two five-setters in the first two rounds of Roland Garros hurt his title prospects.
In order to challenge Djokovic, Nadal, Wawrinka and the rising threat of Dominic Thiem, Murray must finish his early rounds quickly to conserve energy, and work on his sluggish movement. Murray's grasscourt affinities make him naturally unsuited to the high bounce and slow movement of the ball through the air at Roland Garros and Monte Carlo, but with a little bit of work, he could prove to be a formidable threat, and move ever closer to a tantalising Career Grand Slam.
Andy Murray continued the extraordinary recent trend of the elite players in the men's game performing better with marriage and fatherhood.
While Federer won two of his Grand Slams, the 2010 Australian Open and the 2012 Wimbledon, after becoming a parent, the birth of Djokovic's son Stefan in 2014, was a possible triggering factor in his incredible streak of success in 2015 and '16.
Murray joined the parents’ club in 2016, welcoming a daughter with his wife Kim, soon after which he won Wimbledon.
All these are in stark contrast to the greats of yesteryear, who often struggled to perform as well post marriage and fatherhood.
A solid family life, Murray has often said in interviews, has always been a big stabilizing factor in his life, and the support of his mother and former coach Judy, wife Kim and brother Jamie, who also became doubles No.1 in 2016, together with a stable coaching staff, have goe a long way in establishing Andy Murray's reign as the best player in men's tennis for the year 2017.
If 2016 has been any indication, 2017 will be a hotly contested year. The rising young guns, especially Thiem and Alexander Zverev, along with an improving Milos Raonic, the mercurial Nick Kyrgios and the ever-dangerous Stan Wawrinka are all possible threats.
With the return of Federer, Nadal, and a refreshed Djokovic, Murray may find his work cut out for him if he is to remain the best player in men's tennis in 2017.
But Andy Murray possesses true grit, and will fight to the end for what he has won with over a decade of commitment and effort. In my belief, the year 2017 will be the Year of Andy Murray, and will finally bring him the recognition that he deserves, as a legend of the game
. It would be poetic justice if, after all these years of struggle, Murray were to lead the year from start to finish, holding off his Titanic rivals, and adding to the Grand Slam cabinet that has for so many years been witness to more heartbreak than joy.
If 2017 is the Year of Andy Murray, it will be a well-deserved one, and tennis will finally have made reparations to one far more deserving of its fruits.