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Monday, September 23, 2013
Long break just what Murray needed

By Matt Wilansky

Andy Murray is not an ordinary tennis player. We know this. There is no other competitor on this planet whose every move comes with the same fierce scrutiny he faces.

So when Murray finally won Wimbledon, not only did it mark the end of a 77-year national nightmare, but it also meant he could finally exhale. For so many years, no matter what kind of success Murray had, he was a victim of his own ancestry -- a player who couldn’t escape years of futility by his predecessors.

His All England Club championship changed everything. It was so intense, in fact, that he probably still doesn’t realize what it means to have singlehandedly exorcized the biggest blight in Great Britain -- the ghost of Fred Perry. Understandably, this title, the pinnacle of every Murray aspiration, had to become a distraction as the season wore on. And that’s why Murray’s season-ending back surgery might be the best mental recovery he could have asked for.

Murray’s management company issued a statement that he plans on being fully fit for the 2014 season, which seems reasonable. He’s a methodical, if not relentless, worker. But this break will give him a chance to start anew and reclaim the same dogged determination he had before Wimbledon began.

Since his triumph in SW19, Murray won one match in Montreal, a tournament he had captured twice, before Ernests Gulbis took him down in straight sets. In Cincinnati, Murray lost to Tomas Berdych fairly swiftly before going down ignominiously to Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the US Open quarterfinals. Murray spent a good part of that match berating himself, reverting into the same mercurial and moody player we were accustomed to seeing for years.

It’s fair to assume Murray doesn’t carry the same heavy burden anymore. And perhaps our biggest misunderstanding was thinking all that extra elbow room would serve Murray well moving forward. Clearly it hasn’t. The pressure of not winning gave him reason to succeed and push, to prove to himself and his country he could accomplish this extraordinary feat.

The truth is Murray needed a long breather after Wimbledon. The tennis season is long and laborious as it is. There is still the Asian swing, which includes the Shanghai Masters in three weeks, the Paris Masters and the ATP World Tour Finals. It’s not as if Murray is competing for the year-end No. 1 or Player of the Year award. A certain Spaniard is going to procure both of those. Murray is still ranked No. 3 in the world, but he’ll likely get passed by David Ferrer, who has just under 400 fewer points than the Brit. But chances are Murray won’t fall further than that. Roger Federer, at No. 5, will have to string together a fairly impressive run in order to pass Murray.

All this means that by the time the Aussie Open rolls around in mid-January, Murray wouldn’t have to face Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic before the semifinals. Ultimately, that’s all anyone could ask for heading into a major.

So take a break, Andy, heal your back and rest your brain. After all, there’s a good chance the spotlight will be pointed in your direction when you return. You don’t want to disappoint, do you?