Andy Murray's Wimbledon championship offers a new opportunity to appreciate his game and a great chance for the 29-year-old Scot to take the next step in his career.
Andy Murray found himself in an unfamiliar position on Sunday: in the final of a Grand Slam, against a guy not named Federer or Djokovic, and the clear favorite to win. Playing in his 11th major final, Murray coasted to his second Wimbledon trophy, beating Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(2).
Murray’s third Slam title didn’t have quite the epic feel of his first Wimbledon triumph in 2013, when he beat Novak Djokovic and ended a 77-year wait for a British male champion. But the end of Britain’s latest drought, only three years this time, offers a new opportunity to appreciate Murray’s game—and a great chance for the 29-year-old Scot to take the next step in his career.
Entering Saturday, Murray was just 2-8 in Grand Slam finals, a dismal mark that can be excused by the poor timing of his birth. Murray is widely considered part of the “Big Four” in tennis, but he’s always been the fourth, behind all-time greats Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But Murray, quietly, has assembled an excellent 2016, and he was clearly the best player at Wimbledon, only dropping two sets the entire tournament—both to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a thrilling five-set quarterfinal. Djokovic, who beat Murray in the first two major finals of the year, lost in the third round to Sam Querrey, while Federer fell in the semifinals to Raonic. In the final, the role of underdog belonged to the Canadian and Murray outclassed Raonic the way Djokovic has so often outplayed Murray.
“I still feel like my best tennis is ahead of me, that I have an opportunity to win more,” Murray said after the match. “Everyone's time comes at different stages. Hopefully mine is to come.”
Sure, why not? Despite playing in an era with three of the best players ever, one of whom is currently more dominant than possibly anyone has ever been, Murray’s ability seems to be growing with his bald spot. His elite return ability was on full display against Raonic, limiting one of the game’s best servers to just eight aces—easily the 25-year-old’s lowest total of the tournament. Murray’s defense was impregnable: Raonic managed 39 winners, but watching Murray it felt like he was going to reach every ball. Raonic, who is 6’5”, repeatedly came to the net, and Murray repeatedly passed him, especially with his backhand down the line. Murray even served better than Raonic, who never looked comfortable, playing in his first major final. Murray’s comprehensive performance should renew our appreciation for his tremendous ability to disrupt his opponent’s game.
While Federer makes tennis look effortless, Murray is the exact opposite: He makes tennis look difficult. I’m exhausted just watching him. He plays every point like it’s the last point of tennis that will ever be played. He berates his player’s box like a madman. It’s refreshingly authentic, and it’s totally awesome.
Tennis players are necessarily judged in relation to their competition, and Murray is no different. For several years, he’s been a consistent top three player—but still destined to be fourth of four. But that could be changing. Murray will almost certainly never catch up to Federer, Nadal or Djokovic in Grand Slams, but the upcoming hard court season could be critical to our perception of Murray’s career. A first-ever No. 1 ranking is in sight, particularly if he manages to win the U.S. Open: Before Wimbledon, Djokovic had nearly twice as many points as No. 2 Murray, 16,950 to 8,915; but after Djokovic’s loss in the third round and Murray’s win, the gap is now 15,040 to 10,195.
Make no mistake: Djokovic is still, by far, the best player in the world. But without any young players challenging the Big Four’s supremacy—and with half of the Big Four in decline—we can expect Andy Murray to keep grunting, yelling and chasing his way to further glory.