Return of mental demons raises questions about world’s top-ranked player

Something’s rotten with Andy Murray. The pride of Glasgow and ATP No. 1, Murray has been entirely middling as of late.

After his embarrassing second-round loss to the Fabio Fognini in which he showed signs of his old clay-court ineptitude, people are asking questions about Murray’s mental state ahead of the French Open.

Murray failed to chase after drop-shots on a handful of occasions, looking defeated and down.

“That’s not a physical issue. It happens when you’re down on yourself, full of negativity. You’re thinking: ‘Oh, that’s rubbish, I left the ball short again and he drop-shotted me.’”

Unnamed ex-player, via The Telegraph

After a career year in 2016, Murray has suffered a string of puzzling losses. (Image source/Twitter)
After a career year in 2016, Murray has suffered a string of puzzling losses. (Image source/Twitter)

 

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And after the match, this statement from Murray wasn’t exactly the spontaneous overflowings of a confident man.

“A lot of people think I have got no chance of doing anything at the French [Open] after the last couple of weeks. But I do think I can still do well there.”

Andy Murray

I do think I can still do well. Brilliant. Really, Murray’s four-win-four-loss clay-court record is pretty typical of his career play on the surface—absent the splendor of his late 2016 play, which secured him the top spot. This year, he hasn’t beaten a player ranked better than 10th.

No doubt being the top-ranked player in the world for the first time is a heavy burden to carry. And Murray has been injured this year: A tendon issue in his elbow, shingles, and the flu that laid him low in Miami have all plagued the Scotsman.

Yet, it has to be said that the expectations stoked by Murray’s 2016-ending form set a standard he hasn’t been able to meet thus far. Murray lost in the Australian Open to world number 50 Mischa Zverev. He then fell to Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells, Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Monaco, and Borna Coric in Madrid. He was then thumped by Fognini 6-2, 6-4.

Even with a poor showing at the French Open, Murray should be able to maintain the top spot in the world ranking. He’ll likely double down on training with coach Ivan Lendl in the meantime. But even looking a bit slower of foot and diminished serve velocity, the adjustments Murray seems to need most are mental. Fortunately, Lendl has been able to rally his man before. We’ll see if he can do it again.

The Telegraph’s Simon Briggs hit the nail on the head in his assessment of what’s eating Andy Murray after his Italian Open defeat.

“When things are against him, he can become demoralised by the gap between his own expectations and the reality of this challenging sport. However much he protests that it doesn’t matter to him, his position as world No. 1 can only exacerbate the issue.

“When things are against him, he can become demoralised by the gap between his own expectations and the reality of this challenging sport. However much he protests that it doesn’t matter to him, his position as world No 1 can only exacerbate the issue.”

Indeed. As with another world No. 1, Dustin Johnson in golf, Murray’s greatest foe is himself. We’ll see if he’s able to overcome himself at Roland Garros.