Murray is still rolling. Really he hasn’t been challenged at all through-out the Asian swing, completing the Serb’s favorite little double of Beijing/Shanghai. In a recent interview, Murray, although denying his focus on catching Novak at world #1, says certainly he’s confident and the presence of Lendl has helped. Uh, as we have reported redundantly – Murray is a completely different player with Lendl. Go back to 2012-13 where he won his other two majors: Lendl. In Lendl’s absence: Garbage. Lendl back in charge: Brilliant. Ha.
So, while I have been pretty critical of the Scot over the past few years, this has always revolved around a couple of points: his pedestrian offense and his incessant on-court criticism of himself and his box, perhaps the weather and the chair umpire’s shoes. His inability to control his emotions is disaster. You knew a coach (or parent) with any blood in his/her veins would tell him to STFUP and play tennis.
He has responded quite well, in Lendl’s presence and in the absence of much threat on the court. Federer (injured) and Nadal (finished) aside, Novak’s dip and the rest of the field just haven’t been too much trouble. He won Beijing and Shanghai without dropping a set. This is evidence of both Andy’s form and the field, despite a bit of depth starting to emerge (#nextgen), not doing much to challenge the current world #2.
A popular explanation is that after Novak christened his Slam at the French, he came undone; he did win Toronto in a depleted field, but his WB and Olympics losses resonate and the USO meltdown sealed-the-deal on this thesis articulating fatigue and burn-out. This sounds reasonable as Novak’s run over the last couple of years has been legendary. He won three majors in 2015 and two this year, not to mention his continued assault on the Masters circuit. So, I guess his burn-out was imminent.
Let’s add that the burn-out comes too from an already lengthy and dramatic career. His majors final record speaks to this: 12-9. He’s not a spry 29 years-old. He’s been in wars with Federer and Nadal and even Murray that already speak to his massive legacy.
To clarify, let’s not mislead ourselves into thinking that this run of 5 majors in two years is so critically exhausting that the guy needs a break before returning to his massive form. That’s actually a flawed view.
In my view, which I’ve been writing and re-writing about since the USO loss, he’s played a ton of tennis (a very physical style on top of that), with numbers to lead one who’s paying attention to the idea that he might be reaching that stage in his career where these trophies stop cascading into his lap, where he doesn’t devour draws at ease and dominate like a player in his prime.
The number 29 has everyone confused on this. That’s still young goes the thinking. Roger’s relevancy in his 30’s adds to this. The nutrition, equipment and physical science of today will extend careers. Indeed, Roger is misleading, as well. He’s Roger Federer. His game has a ton of sustainability (huge serve, feathery-graceful game, fairly composed emotionally, gargantuan popularity, etc.). He’s pretty much clowning around at 34-35 years old. But that’s not the model for the future. That’s Roger.
Even the argument that Novak’s last couple of years have been so stressful both physically and mentally is riddled with confusion. He was playing so well for so long the crash and burn was bound to happen. Really?
Back to Roger: from 2006 to 2008 he more or less played in all four major finals, each year, winning three majors a year twice, two in 2008, I believe. The Masters tournament finals, by the way, were often five-set masterpieces.
The point is: seeing Novak’s 2016 as some kind of dip in form from such an extended high level is true, but exaggerating this cause-and-effect is flawed. He’s an older 29 than you think and this run, although legendary is not so completely out-of-this-world.
After seeing him crash out in Shanghai, we know this to be true: unless he has a miraculous return to dominance, he better win the 2017 AO. I said that a few weeks back, reminding people that at the 2017 FO he turns 30 (we’ve already broken-down those age numbers, what happens at 29-30 historically, etc.). WB and the USO, I argued, will be the most difficult tournaments for him to win.
Not to mention I heard Andy say that his highest priority now is winning the French. Ahh, the elusive Frenchie.
Indeed, this tour is all about the Novak v Andy narrative. Andy chases Novak for #1. I suppose this will be an interesting race to culminate at the WTF, but the real concern for Novak is not 2016 but 2017. I definitely have Andy as a favorite at AO. Sure the Serb owns that major, but that’s a lot to ask that he wins his 345th AO. Andy plays well in Melbourne, too.
Gimelstob pointed out (I agree) that Novak has to rally and win the WTF and secure his year-end #1 for legacy. Gimelstob, although not going into detail, is giving a nod to the discussion of GOAT and that big criterion: year-end No. 1.
Can Novak rally? That’s the question. Andy looks pretty poised, so long as Lendl remains in charge. We’ll see, as play turns indoors.