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.
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