First Step for Andy Murray to Grow Up: Cut Cord from Mommy

My column, reporting from Australia, for AOL Fanhouse

MELBOURNE, Australia — First off, Andy Murray needs to stop looking over to his mommy. He’s 23, not a kid. God bless any grown man this close to his parents, but this is embarrassing.

Also, telling. You’re trying to win the Australian Open final, and tennis is about standing on the field of battle alone. Plenty of players look to their coaches, which is embarrassing enough. Judy Murray (pictured below), who is a coach, has the added element of being Murray’s mommy.

Cut the cord, Andy. Or, cut it, Judy. You can’t fly for him.

We spend all our time and thoughts on the big winner in sports, which makes sense. Novak Djokovic won the Australia Open, beating Murray and climbing onto the same platform with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

But in this case, the loser was just such a colossal loss. It was newsworthy. It might have been one of the biggest losses ever among athletes who were entrenched at the top of their sport. Murray was The Biggest Loser, and not just because he lost a tennis match.

He lost his credibility. He lost his name. He lost his mind. He lost his image as a young up-and-comer.

And now, he needs to lose his Mommy, at least from the player’s box during matches.

“He railed at his mother, squawking seagulls, the occasional ball boy, the cool night air, innocent whitewash and, ultimately, whatever demon inside him that wrecked his equilibrium.”

That’s what the Guardian, the British newspaper, said. Britain is working on three quarters of a century without a British major champ, so one paper in England referred to Murray as a Brit when he was going into the final. After he lost?

He was a Scot.

“Sorry mum!” the Daily Mail screamed. “Loser Murray becomes first ever player to not win a set in THREE Grand Slam finals.” 

Yes, Murray has lost his first three major finals. What we saw Sunday was that there is no learning curve.

Andre Agassi lost his first three major finals, too, and went on to win all four majors and become one of tennis’ all-time greats.

This is totally different.

This loss helped to fully identify what Murray’s problem is. It’s not a lack of fire, but too much fire at times, and then a disinterest at other times. He can scream and yell and curse, and then dump a volley into the net with his opponent entirely off the court. Murray forgot to move his feet.

Agassi lost those early majors because he was there too much for the show. Remember Image Is Everything? Agassi loved the flashy look, the flashy shots. Eventually, he figured out that flash wasn’t the dirty work, and became a strategic genius.

As it turned out, all the required mental aspects were there for Agassi. But are they for Murray?

I always thought Murray’s problem was that he thought too much. But that’s not it.

Against Djokovic, he was trying to talk himself into being aggressive, but while he swung hard, he wasn’t going for anything. One rally lasted 39 shots, 20 from Murray, including his serve. To play aggressively, you set up a point and then go for the kill.

We saw two players who can do anything, and figured to see one player doing something that worked, and then the other to counter that. Back and forth all night.

Instead, Djokovic broke serve on the last game of the first set, and then Murray, instead of adjusting the way Kim Clijsters had done brilliantly in the women’s final, just deflated.

He looked to his mommy, slumped, got a pained look on his face. Djokovic saw all of it on the big screen at Rod Laver Arena. He saw a weakened opponent and knew he had Murray where he wanted.

So Murray’s problem wasn’t that he thought too much, was it? He didn’t think at all, at least, not about tennis.

Afterward, someone asked Djokovic if Murray’s problem is mental.

“Well, it is in some ways a mental issue when you are facing a situation, playing the finals of a Grand Slam, being so close to winning a title,” Djokovic said. “Every time you get in there, you want to win it badly, but some things go wrong. You’re thinking too much. You’re worrying too much in your head.

“It’s a mental battle, definitely. Bottom line is that this is a very mental sport in the end.”

Murray’s mental situation isn’t consistent. He is too uptight, and then goes off into space.

“I’m not desperate to put it right,” he said. “I don’t think that is the right way to go about it. I want to enjoy myself away from the court.

“I want to enjoy myself when I am at the tournaments. I want to enjoy all the training. It is balancing the two to make it as best and as fun as possible.”

Be depressed the way he was after last year’s final, or take the pressure off and show lack of interest. Murray hasn’t decided.

Agassi just had to figure out where to direct his focus. Murray has to learn how to focus at all. It’s a much bigger ask.

He’s going to have to find it from within, though. Mommy can’t make this all better.

Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

2 responses to “First Step for Andy Murray to Grow Up: Cut Cord from Mommy

  • Steve

    It’s hard to know what, if any, influence Judy has on Andy’s game.

    I mean if Djokovic screamed at his box we’d assume it was directed at his coach so I don’t think it’s really fair to assume Murray was looking to Mom.

    Djokovic speaks from experience on the mental aspect. Let us not forget he choked badly in his first slam. In FM 2007 he had blew a 40-0 lead on his own serve when trying to close out the first set.

    He also started nervously against Tsonga, dropping the first set, and could have easily been overwhelmed had he faced a more experienced opponent that day.

    Murray definitely wasn’t mentally right. He sent racquets to the stringer after like five games, presumably to help him hit through the court better.

    He was then in Jake Garner’s ear after the next two games emphasising how he needed the new racquets back as quickly as possible.

    His mind was never on the match. Even that 39 shot rally that broke him. he didn’t play a bad point, just completely choked a routine forehand pass. Djokovic came in on a wing and a prayer.

    But I guess that says it all. There’s a hell of a lot to be said for seizing the initiative against a nervous opponent even if you don’t go about it in the most tactically astute way.

    In Agassi’s book he says he tanked the last game of the RG final against Courier because he just wanted to get off the court as quickly as possible. He says he was ready to quit tennis after that match as well.

    I guess Murray can take some heart from that but it’s hard to know what to suggest short of hiring a shrink.

    Some of my own thoughts on the final here:

    http://shanktennis.com/2011/01/31/the-australian-open-final-five-thoughts/

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