Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Andy Murray: Embracing the Pressure is his Only Choice

If pressure is a privilege, then Andy Murray is a privileged man.

While it isn't easy to have the hopes and dreams of an entire nation sitting squarely on your shoulders, the 22-year-0ld Scot appears unfazed by the tremendous weight of Great Britain's collective desire. Well, maybe that's a stretch, but he does appear to be dealing with it in a positive manner.

Murray knows that it's better to have his tennis-crazed nation in his corner than to have them against him.

The razor-thin margins that win or lose tennis matches can often be swayed by the intangibles. Murray is cognizant of the fact that the advantage he'll gain from the support of the British will far outweigh any pressure that may come packaged with their expectations. One or two pivotal points, fueled by emotion, can turn a losing proposition into a winning one. A chest thump after an ace, that brings the faithful to their feet. A raised fist after saving a break point, as the crowd roars in approval and the player on the other side of the net cringes.

Murray is not naive enough to overlook the obvious advantage that crowd support can provide him with. More importantly, he is mature enough to realize that the pressure is not something to shy away from. He may be young, but he isn't foolish. The kid gets it.

"I mean, I think anytime you can play in front of a home crowd in any sport, you know, it's a huge advantage," said Murray during a pre-Wimbledon presser. "I think a lot of people try and say that playing here at Wimbledon - that it's not - but I don't understand why... in football and in basketball, home court or playing a home match is a huge advantage. I view tennis as being the same thing. You've got 15,000 people behind you."

Murray, in three previous Wimbledon's, has improved upon his performance in each successive year. Last year's five set thriller in the 4th round against Richard Gasquet is testament to the influence that a crowd can have in a tennis match - they practically willed the young muscle-flexing Murray to victory.

Tim Henman, Murray's predecessor, was privy to the same benefits. His Wimbledon career was stellar while the rest of his results on tour were less so. The serve and volley virtuoso never reached higher than no. 4 in the rankings over the course of his thoroughly entertaining career, and yet, somehow, Henman was able to produce magnificent results nearly every time that he played at Wimbledon.

Four semi-finals, and four quarter finals, in fourteen appearances. This is truly remarkable, considering that in thirty-five other Grand-Slam appearances, all Henman could muster was two semi-finals (one at the U.S. Open and one at Roland Garros).

If Murray can surf the waves of crowd support as Henman did, he should be able to eclipse Henman's results quite easily. Why? Because at this juncture in his career he is better than Henman ever was.

Clearly, Murray has the higher ceiling of the two players, and it doesn't take a tennis genius to know it. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not Murray will be able to harness the tremendous power of the crowd support as well as Henman did. If he does, than the field at Wimbledon better watch out.

Murray is not above using Henman as a role model, and drawing upon his vast experience at the Championships. This can only help Murray in his quest to break the seventy-two year Wimbledon title drought for British players.

"Tim, I'm sure, played some of the best tennis of his career here. I think the crowd has something to do with that."

In becoming the first British player since Bunny Austin in 1938 to win the coveted trophy one week ago at Queens Club, Murray has further ignited the fury of the British media and fans.

Now all that remains is for Murray to perform a minor miracle at the All England Club. The way that roger Federer has been playing, anything less than a miraculous effort might not get the job done.

Luckily for Murray, he will not be alone. Each time he takes Centre Court, he'll have 15,000 of his closest friends cheering his every shot.

It doesn't get much better than that for a tennis player, and the more Andy Murray realizes this, the better his chances will be.


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