Few sportspeople have the ability to grab the attention of masses of people who would otherwise be disinterested in their sport. To do this, you need to transcend the technicalities of that sport and instead capture their imagination through something different — human qualities, or more specifically, superhuman qualities. Andy Murray has this ability and it was on full display in his short but sweet run at the 2023 Australian Open.
The first round match-up against world number 14, Matteo Berrettini, was likely not the draw that Murray was hoping for heading into Melbourne. However, he enters every match with the mind-set that he can win, and with good reason. He is arguably the only player who is regarded as equal to the top three: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Whereas for every other men's player, this level of tennis seems out of reach, Murray has gone toe to toe with the best and won. This is a confidence in ability that most of the up and coming players lack. That is why, even when improbable, you can never count Murray out.
This belief was tested when Berrettini had match point against Murray after fighting back from two sets down. Despite Berrettini’s formidable serve (31 aces to Murray’s 10) and positive momentum from winning the previous two sets, Murray held on with everything he had. He himself noted after the match that it could have swung either way, but concluded that he deserved to win. And win he did, with the fifth set ending 6-10 in the tiebreak.
Five hours against one of the most promising new tennis stars would have been enough to make Murray proud of what he achieved, however he wasn’t done yet. In the second round, Murray faced Australian, Thanasi Kokkinakis, who won the doubles title the year before with his compatriot Nick Kyrgios. Kokkinakis came into the game fresh from a three set to love victory against Fabio Fognini, and had a dream start to the match, going two sets to love up. However, in familiar fashion, Murray clawed his way back, winning the third set tie-break. By this point in Melbourne it was well past midnight and there was no sign of the match wrapping up any time soon.
The swing of momentum in Murray’s direction was evidently frustrating for Kokkinakis, who was inflamed by his interactions with the umpire. Inconsistency in time-code and racket violations angered the players on both sides of the net, reflecting the wider theme of anger at the umpires, electronic line callers, and rules in general, that has been evident throughout the tournament. Murray did not let it phase him however, and after five hours and 45 minutes he was declared victorious. Murray’s grit, determination, and insane shot making was met with astonishment from even those who are familiar with his game.
Murray’s run came to an end in the third round against Roberto Bautista Agut in a three set to one loss. Despite this disappointment, it felt that he could have well won the whole tournament with the skill, resolve and surprising mobility he showed. However, we are at the stage in Murray’s career where nothing should come as a surprise. Every match he plays now in his career is a gift, given that doctors all but wrote him off after his hip replacement. The 2023 season is set to be the gift that keeps on giving for those following the Flying Scot.
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