With the reviews of 2014, together with the previews of 2015, now posted, we can all strap ourselves in for what looks like an exciting year of sport.
I wish to begin on a positive note by addressing the likely fortunes of Andy Murray, Britain’s most successful tennis player to date, over the next twelve months. Yesterday he brushed the post-operative and not fully fit Rafa Nadal aside by a margin of 6-2, 6-0 in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship semi-final in Abu Dhabi and will now play Novak Djokovic in the final.
To get the clichés out of the way first – yes, Murray is unfortunate to be enjoying his best years at a time when possibly four (or five?) of the top ten world’s greatest-ever male players are still operating. And yes, he’s a prickly character who occasionally gets it wrong it terms of public relations – which somehow in the public’s mind matters more than the 75% of the time he gets it right.
Mind you, British tennis has long suffered under the handicap that the majority of its mainstream followers – if given these as the only two options – would seemingly prefer to have Downton Abbey‘s the Earl of Grantham [played by actor Hugh Bonneville], in long whites, strolling onto Wimbledon Centre Court holding his racquet by the wrong end as the British Number One, rather any bruiser with attitude who perhaps lacks a few airs and graces but actually possesses the raw talent and killer instinct to go all the way to a Major title.
Murray will turn 28 in May. He has maybe four years – just 16 Majors – left in which to cement his place in tennis history, and arguably less than that. He’s had back surgery and few other injuries, taken time to regain his best form … had a few ups and downs both on and off court … but, for me, now appears relatively settled and at one with himself. He’s got engaged at last, seemed focused on the job at hand and ready to attempt one more time to break into the top three, hopefully to make it all the way to that coveted No 1 ranking.
Can he do it? If he ever is, it has to be in 2015. Djokovic is a few weeks younger than Murray, some might hold naturally a greater player, and he’s not going to fade away in a hurry – he’s going to be a constant thorn in the flesh for the remainder of Murray’s elite career. For me, Federer is definitely a greater player, but surely 2015 is the year that age catches up with him. Of bigger concern might be the pack of young turks coming up on the outside rail – Wawrinka, Raonic and Cilic immediately spring to mind – because verve and fitness count for so much in tennis.
In men’s tennis there could be something of a stampede to prominence once the era of the ‘Big Four’ [Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray] is finally over. Some might say that Murray was never quite a full member – in the sense that, on any given day, he had the wherewithal to beat any of the other three – and, logic suggests, very few tennis players get better after 27 or 28.
Fingers crossed for the Australian Open, then!