Murray to take aura of invincibility into new year
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Forget the latest addition to Andy Murray's creaking trophy cabinet, the $2.4 million cheque and the adulation of a nation, the most significant upshot of his ATP World Tour Finals victory over Novak Djokovic is the aura it brings.
Murray, the new king of men's tennis, will take that rare commodity which few achieve in sport into the new season in spades.
It is an unquantifiable weapon and one that can sustain lengthy periods of dominance even when form is fickle.
Scroll through the annals of sport and there are some striking examples.
Steve Waugh's Australian cricket team had it, winning 16 consecutive tests between 1999 and 2001, so too have various New Zealand rugby union sides. Spain's national soccer team achieved an aura of invincibility between 2008 and 2012.
Individually, Michael Schumacher had it while winning seven Formula One drivers titles, as did squash great Jahangir Khan who was unbeaten between 1981 and 1986. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt exudes it every time he steps on to his blocks.
Murray knows only too well the debilitating effect it can have on opponents.
He has played and suffered in an era graced by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic who, at various times over the past decade, have had rivals mentally beaten before a point was even played.
It looked that way on Sunday when Murray, exhausted after his epic semi-final victory over Milos Raonic when he saved a match point, walked on court to face Djokovic in a showdown for the end-of-year number one spot.
Dressed in his now familiar military-grade kit and industrial-strength footwear, the granite-calved Murray looked like an indestructible machine while Djokovic, so often the Scot's master during their career-long rivalry, appeared lightweight and unsure of himself.
Murray duly won 6-3 6-4 and, despite a late Djokovic fightback, played like he knew the outcome was never in doubt.
"There was no serious chance for me to win today's match." Djokovic said. "From the very beginning we could see that. He was just a better player all in all."
Murray, 29, is undefeated since September, has won 24 matches in succession and his win-loss record since losing to Djokovic in the French Open final is 53-3.
In the last week of the season he beat world number five Kei Nishikori, number four Stan Wawrinka and number three Milos Raonic before swatting aside second-ranked Djokovic with an ease bordering on contempt.
And the iron-willed Murray is unlikely to relent.
The sweat had barely dried on Sunday and he was talking about his December training camp and January's Australian Open where Murray will start as favourite to win a fourth grand slam.
Former world number one John McEnroe, another player who at his peak in the 1980s had opponents cowed before battle, said Murray will be well aware that aura, so long in the making, can vanish quickly.
"Murray is an amazing athlete. He's going to try to take advantage of this time because it's limited, we all know that," the American told the BBC. Djokovic will need no reminding.
"If you had told me six months ago that this would even be an issue, I would have said you're crazy," McEnroe said of Djokovic's sudden vulnerability.
"At some point you're going to hit a wall of some kind, But when it comes, people are surprised, but it always happens.
"You just don't know how long it will last."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)