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Column: Andy Murray risks becoming one-hit wonder

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Column: Andy Murray risks becoming one-hit wonder

Andy Murray looks like a one-hit wonder.

In the Australian Open final, Murray had Novak Djokovic almost dangling on the end of a hook, facing three break points in what proved to be a momentum-shifting game early in the second set.

But he couldn't reel in the Serb, who now has six major titles and the top of men's tennis to himself with age slowly blunting Roger Federer's abilities and Rafael Nadal's future clouded by creaky knees.

This was Murray's chance to capitalize on his breakthrough year in 2012, when he won his first major title and Olympic gold.

Had Murray won again Sunday, Britons could have joked that major titles for British men are like London buses: you wait ages for one and then two come along in quick succession.

Murray ruined the punch line.

His 7-6 (2),6-7 (3), 3-6, 2-6 loss in Melbourne to Djokovic was gritty but felt like a step back not a step forward. At this stage of his career, Murray needs to be regularly winning major finals, not just reaching them, if he wants to be remembered for more than just one exceptional year in 2012.

That Murray allowed a feather falling onto the court to throw off his serve in the second set tiebreaker and squandered match-changing break points made one wonder whether his curse is that he has the physical tools to be a great tennis player but not the mind.

Backing up that argument is Murray's now near-dismal record in major finals: played six, won just one - against Djokovic at the U.S. Open last September.

That was the first major for a British man since Fred Perry in 1936. It was historic but not, in itself, an answer to the question of whether Murray is simply a very good player or has the makings of a great one.

A victory for Murray on Sunday to go with his U.S. Open crown and his Olympic gold won at home last August would have looked like a power shift at the top of men's tennis, especially since Murray beat Federer for the first time in four attempts at a major to reach Sunday's final.

Instead, the loss to Djokovic made Murray's 2012 wins look more like exceptions than the possible beginnings of a new rule.

Still, the successes of 2012 and a whole year of coaching and confidence boosting from Ivan Lendl have clearly made a startling difference.

Unlike the pre-Lendl Murray, the new Murray doesn't so often look as if he swallowed a cocktail of vinegar and lemon juice. He still grimaces and mutters to himself and yells at his entourage when shots go awry. But he has ditched the loser's body language and hang-dog look that too often used make his defeats seem like self-fulfilling prophecies.

Still, Murray's positive outlook and the more aggressive, take-it-to-the-opponent shot-making that flows from it weren't enough to beat Djokovic this time. The Serb's wells of confidence and resolve seem deeper than anyone's in tennis with the possible exception of Nadal.

The Australian final showed that physically, Djokovic and Murray are evenly matched, powerful on both the backhand and forehand sides, with delicate control, supreme fitness and rubber-ball quickness around the court.

But until Murray can consistently go toe-to-toe with Djokovic's mental toughness, their rivalry won't feel as titanic as clashes between Djokovic and Nadal or Federer and Nadal when they are at their best.

Djokovic is exuberant, a joker apt to wear a blonde wig or Darth Vader mask onto court. Murray is so understated he said the most enjoyable part of winning the U.S. Open was getting back to his hotel room and ``spending a bit of time on my own.''

But those differences are cosmetic. The difference that counted most on Sunday was killer instinct.

Djokovic had it.

Murray did not.

Murray should have landed a crippling blow when he had Djokovic on the ropes at the end of the first set and beginning of the second.

In his most convincing period of the match, Murray won 17 of 19 points, racing to a 4-0 lead in winning the first-set tiebreaker, holding his serve to love at the start of the second set and then putting the squeeze on Djokovic to 0-40 on his serve.

That Murray didn't convert those break points into a 2-0, second-set lead was telling, especially given the fact that Djokovic had looked so out of sorts, annoyed with his shoes, shots and movement.

Winning that game, alone, wouldn't have won Murray the match. But it certainly would have given him hard-to-stop momentum that might have taken his mind off the painful blister developing on his right foot.

``At this level, it can come down to just a few points here or there. My probably biggest chance was at the beginning of the second set; (I) didn't quite get it. When Novak had his chance at the end of the third, he got his,'' Murray said.

Another turning point was Murray's loss of concentration at 2-2 in the second tiebreaker. Interrupting his service action because a white feather was floating onto the court, then catching it and getting rid of it only to serve a double-fault suggested that Murray still lets too many outside influences interfere with his focus.

``It just caught my eye before I served. I thought it was a good idea to move it,'' Murray said. ``Maybe it wasn't because I obviously double-faulted.''

So Murray remains a work in progress, not the finished product. Lendl still has work to do.

Lendl understands Murray because, like the Scot, he lost his first four major finals before winning his fifth - the 1984 French Open. Lendl's jagged career path of sustained disappointment followed by eventual long-term success should again offer hope to Murray. After his 1984 breakthrough, Lendl lost his sixth major final, as Murray has now done, and his seventh, too. But the career record Lendl retired with - eight titles from 19 major finals - is one Murray would doubtless give his hind teeth for. A moral of Lendl's story is try and then try again, making him the perfect coach to extricate Murray from the trough of this latest defeat.

Together, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray form a Fab Four who have separated themselves from the rest of the men's field with the sustained excellence of their play.

But Murray remains the group's Ringo Starr - still bringing up the rear. He needs more hits of his own for that to change.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him athttp://twitter.com/johnleicester

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Bullets/Wizards legend, Hall of Famer Wes Unseld passes away at 74

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Bullets/Wizards legend, Hall of Famer Wes Unseld passes away at 74

Wes Unseld passed away at the age of 74 Tuesday. 

The Bullets/Wizards legend and basketball Hall of Famer was surrounded by his family and died peacefully in the hospital, according to a statement released by the Unseld family. 

"It is with profound sadness that we share that our adored husband, father and grandfather Wes Unseld passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by family following lengthy health battles, most recently with pneumonia," the family wrote. "He was the rock of our family, an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates. He was our hero and loved playing and working around the game of basketball for the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C., he proudly wore on his chest for so many years."

Unseld spent the entirety of his basketball career with the Bullets/Wizards franchise. He played from 1968-81, made five All-Star games, won the MVP award as a rookie and helped bring Washington its only NBA championship in 1978. He remains the franchise's all-time leader in minutes, games and rebounds and is top five in franchise history in field goals, assists and points.

After his playing career, he coached the Bullets from 1988-94 and then took over as general manager from 1996-2001 and then again from 2001-03.

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One analyst gives a very dispiriting take on what the 2020 Redskins have at quarterback

One analyst gives a very dispiriting take on what the 2020 Redskins have at quarterback

No one will look at the Redskins' quarterback situation and call it superb or even settled, but with a slimmer and more experienced Dwayne Haskins positioned as starter and ex-Panthers signal caller Kyle Allen reuniting with his old staff as depth, fans can at least reasonably hope that things will work out under center in 2020.

NBC Sports analyst Josh Norris, though, doesn't envision a positive outcome for Washington's passers this year. During an interview on the Redskins Talk podcast, he explained why.

First, Norris gave his opinion on Allen. When the Burgundy and Gold initially acquired the former Carolina QB, some asserted that Allen would actually beat out Haskins for the top job. Norris, however, flat out doesn't believe Allen has that kind of talent.

"My lowest moment of 2019 was that two-month span where people tried to make Kyle Allen a starter in the NFL," Norris told Redskins Talk. "It was bogus. It was so ridiculous."

"I understand the production was there and he went on some starting streaks and they won some games," he continued. "But he's at best an NFL backup."

In the end, Norris compared Allen to Colt McCoy. Yes, most rosters need someone like McCoy — hell, he just left the area after a six-year run with the franchise and he's now a Giant, so he's clearly valued — but those kinds of guys aren't the ones coaches want running their offenses for more than a few quarters or so.

Now, here's the part where it gets dispiriting: While Norris doesn't think much of Allen — in addition to the McCoy comparison, Norris labeled Allen inaccurate and too susceptible to pocket pressure — he still expects him to start for team in 2020. That stems from Norris also doubting what Haskins will be able to do in his second season as a pro.

"We still don't know who he is," Norris said of the 2019 first-round pick.

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW

Yes, Haskins improved as a rookie in a situation that was largely a catastrophe, so it's not crazy to conclude he should continue to ascend now that the organization is more settled. Norris himself acknowledged the growth Haskins made.

However, even with that maturation, as well as Norris' positive feelings about Ron Rivera, Scott Turner and many other aspects of Washington's potential turnaround, the analyst still sees a glaring weakness that'll directly affect Haskins and could contribute to a less-than-stellar campaign for No. 7.

"What is possibly the most important part of quarterback success is offensive line play, and I think it's fair to question the Washington Redskins' offensive line right now, especially the left tackle spot," Norris said.

In the end, Norris anticipates Haskins having issues for a certain number of weeks, Allen stepping in after and the Redskins overall being unhappy with their collective output at QB. 

"We've seen NFL storylines repeat themselves," he said. "A [staff] goes to a new organization and brings a quarterback that may not be starting caliber but understands exactly what they want to do and he ultimately ends up starting a handful of games because of that, because they want to stabilize the situation as much as possible."

How stable does that really sound? The answer, of course, is not at all. 

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