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Where Murray goes next

Tom Fordyce | 22:50 UK time, Friday, 1 July 2011

BBC Sport at Wimbledon

After all the hope and hype, the story stays the same. For the third year on the bounce, Andy Murray has left Wimbledon after being flattened in a semi-final.

His role in the longest-running narrative in British sport - the search for a homegrown male champion - seems secure: the stooge, the plucky loser, the supporting act for whichever glamourpuss foreigner chooses to steal the Centre Court stage this time around.

That he's not the first to play the part does not make it any less cruel. British men have reached 11 Wimbledon semi-finals since 1938 and failed to win a single one between them.

Can the plot change? Is Murray the man to do it?

If history is against him, maybe the present is too. Murray is reaching his physical peak at the same time as not only the most successful Grand Slam champion of all time - Roger Federer - but the man most likely to match him, Rafa Nadal.

It is arguably the most competitive era of men's tennis in the history of the sport. We used to talk about Nadal as the best number two the world has ever seen; since Novak Djokovic will take the number one ranking on Monday regardless of his performance in Sunday's final, we could now have the best number two, as well as the best number three - Federer.

Does Murray, currently at four, face a tougher battle in winning a Grand Slam than those who came before?

Andy MurrayMurray has been in seven Grand Slam semi-finals and three finals

"It is a great compliment to be considered as one of the top four in the world and he definitely belongs there and has improved massively," says Boris Becker, who won six Grand Slam singles titles - including three at Wimbledon - and who is now working as an expert summariser for BBC Sport.

"But is he unlucky that he plays in the era of Nadal and Federer? Absolutely not. There is never an era that is easy.

"The McEnroe/Borg/Connors era wasn't easy, the Sampras/Agassi era wasn't easy and the Becker/Edberg era wasn't easy. Every era has its good players."

Murray had played his best set of grass-court tennis in memory to take a one-set lead over Nadal on Friday afternoon. At 2-1 in the second and 15-30 on the Spaniard's serve, he had a simple mid-court forehand for two break points. He sent it long and was never the same player again.

"Missing that forehand was obviously the key moment in the match, but it shouldn't have been," says Becker. "One point should not stop you playing for a further 45 minutes.

"He lost it, not technically, but mentally. That missed opportunity affected him emotionally and mentally far too much and that simply can't happen. In a semi-final you only get small opportunities and if you get upset too much, your chance is shot."

At his best Murray is a match for anyone in the game, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer included. On Friday he hit 42 winners to Nadal's 37, and 15 aces to Nadal's six.

To match their Grand Slam wins he will have to maintain those levels for longer. He also produced 37 unforced errors compared to Nadal's seven; and converted just 25% of break points to Nadal's 63%.

"Andy played great tennis for a set and a half against Nadal and his serve and forehand was much better than last year," says Becker. "But against the likes of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer it is about the mind and the spirit you have.

"You have got to be tougher within yourself to not let defeats like Friday's happen.

"I didn't lean on a sports psychologist during my career because mentally I was strong enough but there were a number of players then, and now, that looked for support.

"He doesn't need to talk about it and no one would need to know. There are conditioning trainers, there are tennis trainers and there are psychologists. If they make you stronger and if it can help, then why not?

"Of course there were times in my career when I was affected by mental demons. The key is that you have to admit them. You have to openly talk to the people close to you about them and they can only help you find a solution. But the first step is admitting you have a problem."

This was Murray's 23rd Grand Slam tournament. Only six of the 51 Slam winners in the Open era have required more attempts to win their first.

But there is hope in history. Players with less natural ability and far fewer shots than Murray have won Grand Slams in recent memory.

Thomas Johansson never got past the quarter-finals of the US Open or the second round of the French yet took the Australian Open in 2002 - his 25th attempt in a Grand Slam; Petr Korda won the same tournament four years before that yet failed to get past the quarter-finals at either Wimbledon or the US Open, and was thrashed in Paris in his only other Grand Slam final, losing in straight sets to Jim Courier and winning just eight games.

There have also been easier years at Wimbledon. In the gap between the dominant eras of Pete Sampras and Federer, wildcard Goran Ivanisevic took advantage in 2001 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Is Murray an inferior player to those two? No.

"During the semi-final on Friday I was thinking how big Andy's team is," says Becker. "There were a lot of people in his box telling him a lot of things. I don't know whether he needs more people around him - if anything, I think he needs to cut down on the amount of people that he is working with."
What of his playing schedule?

"I think the mistake Andy made after losing the Australian Open final was to take too much time off," says Becker. "If he was my player I would send him out there as soon as possible and throw him back into competition.

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"You can only improve by putting yourself back on the line in a competitive environment. If the problem is coping with tough situations that is exactly where you need to be, you need to be back out there."

It is Murray's misfortune, just as it was for Tim Henman, to be perceived as a failure by some British sports fans regardless of his achievements away from Wimbledon.

Just as Henman's remarkable feat in making the semi-finals of the French Open - serve-volleying at Roland Garros? - tends to be obscured by memories of his four semi-final defeats at SW19, so the seven Grand Slam semis reached by Murray (making the last four in all four) are in danger of being forgotten by those who only care about tennis for two weeks a year.

"Playing at his home tournament has its own pressures - it's a lot more than just being about the tennis," believes Becker.

"hope now he is going to continue the way he has been playing, not only this week, but at Queen's, at the French Open and in Rome. He has had a couple of really good tournaments all summer long. The US Open will soon be upon us and he is going to get another chance at winning his first, elusive Grand Slam.

"His best surface is not the grass of Wimbledon but the hard courts of Flushing Meadow and the Rebound Ace in Australia. I think he will definitely win a Slam."

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