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Murray faces fearsome challenge as summer slams beckon

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Emmott Leigh previews the busy summer tennis period and the next two grandslams. How will Andy Murray fare against the greats of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal? Can he defend his Wimbledon crown? 

Some good news for tennis fans, as exam season also sees the beginning of the back-to-back Grand Slam period. The crux of the tennis year, which once again looks set to be a thriller. Here is my review of both events on the men’s side:

French Open

Andy Murray faces his second Slam defence in June when he returns to the grass courts of Wimbledon, but first he takes to the clay in the French Open. A surface he has grown accustom to of late following the recent Davis Cup tie against Italy. This gives us a chance to assess his credentials. Great Britain’s tactics in the tie were not exactly evenly-spread amongst the players, as they favoured a ‘let’s just ask Andy to win enough matches to get us through’ approach. Although eventually to their detriment, this certainly gave the British No. 1 a lot of court time.

Murray couldn't quite beat the Italians on his own.  Photo credit: Eurosport
Murray couldn’t quite beat the Italians on his own.
Photo credit: Eurosport

He professes that clay is his least favourite surface, which probably explains his absences over recent years from the French Open, along with concentrating on Wimbledon, but his play here was initially well beyond the abilities of his opponents. In the doubles his groundstrokes were ‘on another planet’ according to the commentators, and his mighty serve was fully functioning. In the singles he was tested by Andreas Seppi but still vanquished him in straight sets, and his loss against Fabio Fognini was likely due to a combination of his overuse and the other’s preference for the surface.

Having missed last year’s tournament due to a supposed back injury, Murray will surely gain plenty of ranking points in his 2014 effort. However, he is still an outsider to steal the eventual victory, with his lack of coach being a major issue at present.  Whilst Djokovic is under the tutelage of the multiple-Slam-winning Boris Becker and the ageing Federer being guided by the legendary Edberg, Murray has no such winner’s experience to call on after his split with Ivan Lendl. The other two current players have won a huge amount of Slams anyway, but Murray has only a single US Open and one Wimbledon title to flaunt.

Then there is the issue of gameplay; whereas the Wimbledon grass courts favour his more attacking game and serve, the clay is more bouncy, which often forces a lengthy rally. Murray commits too many unforced errors to still come through when the numerous freebies from his serve and powerful groundstrokes are snatched away from him. He should reach the quarters, but the likes of Nadal and Djokovic (whose wrist injury is not serious enough to rule him out of the Open) are far more likely to clinch the trophy.

Djokovic is arguably the favourite going in; his Monte Carlo Masters campaign was indeed a masterclass in the vein of Watson at Augusta until the wrist concerns took over. Two heavy 6-0 6-1 annihilations earned him a semi-final place in the Masters and he has recently had the better of Nadal himself on separate occasions. His exceptionally flexibility and rally-based approach to tennis is also suited to clay. Nadal meanwhile, usually so brilliant on this surface, lost to his countryman David Ferrer on the Carlo courts.

Can anyone stop the 'king of clay'? Photo credit: Getty images
Can anyone stop the ‘king of clay’? Photo credit: Getty images

Prediction: The Serbian to take the French Open by defeating Wawrinka (the eventual Masters winner) over four sets in the final and end Rafa’s dominance on clay.

Wimbledon:

As mentioned, Murray’s ferocious offense is perfect for grass, which probably explains the manner of his win over Djokovic last year at Wimbledon. With the UK crowd behind him and the intense preparation he will undoubtedly force himself through, the Scotsman should be able to work his way into another quarter final in June. Howver, his ranking makes things a little different this year; instead of the usual scenario of meeting another top-tier seed in the semis, the eighth seed would (barring a couple of upsets) find himself pitted against a top four player in the quarters, possibly Djokovic or Nadal. With the two Swiss adversaries Federer and Wawrinka in scorching hot form as well, not one of these expected opponents will go into a Murray match as the underdog. At the very least, the Scot faces a troublesome run-in to defend his title.

Stan is finally stepping out of Federer's shadow.  Photo credit: The Guardian.
Stan is finally stepping out of Federer’s shadow.
Photo credit: The Guardian.

Wimbledon has often thrown a few curveballs in the recent years, though. Last year Wawrinka was eliminated early on by the Australian, Lleyton Hewitt, and Nadal was famously upset by the unknown Steve Darcis. Even Federer was shocked by Stakhovsky, even if the victor’s model girlfriend received far more attention for it than he did. Also, it has become clear as of late that certain stars always perform best on this stage. Hewitt is one example, on the women’s side Sabine Lisicki is another; she rarely goes half the distance she manages at Wimbledon in other Slams. Murray could be placed in this category, for he has never been truly upset by in front of the ‘home’ crowd. It appears the magic of Wimbledon affects some more than others!

Prediction:  The recent upsets make it hard to predict what is going to happen, but the stars seem to be aligning for a Djokovic- and Wawrinka-led spell of domination. So once again I predict these two to meet in the final, with Djokovic prevailing in a close encounter. Federer may well feature once more but I except Murray to crushed a round or two before the final.

Tennis seems to be in an uncertain stage at the moment, with Federer on one last hurrah and Murray recovering his class, leaving others such as Gasquet and Berdych as quiet threats, but Djokovic and Nadal are still in power at the top and neither is winding down. The Serbian is dominating their top-tier struggle at the moment, but Wawrinka wants in and it might not be too long before he gets there.  

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