Murray will struggle to reach his potential while Federer and Nadal are around

Twelve months ago, Andy Murray wept as he stood alongside Roger Federer ahead of the presentation ceremony at the end of the Australian Open and uttered the words that endeared him to the tennis public: ‘I can cry like Roger, it’s a shame I can’t play like him.’

It is a problem that, according to some of the most respected British observers of the game, is not going to be easily overcome.

And on the eve of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Murray is faced with the daunting reality that as long as Federer and Rafael Nadal are still playing, a Grand Slam breakthrough is always going to be that much tougher.

Andy Murray

Heat is on: Murray begins his 21st Grand Slam on Tuesday

As Andrew Castle, a former British No 1 and now a widely admired broadcaster, says: ‘The bottom line for Andy is that there are two players better than him — Nadal and Federer.

‘Their dominance has been as remarkable as the way they play. Why would you think anyone other than Nadal or Federer will win the majors this year? It’s a very simple picture.

‘Ask Colin Montgomerie how easy it is to win a major. Monty was a world force in golf year in, year out, winning the European Order of Merit seemingly for fun. But he never cracked a major.

‘To Andy’s credit, he has done everything to give himself the best chance. All he can do is put himself in the arena and he does that time and time again. He puts in the hard work and he looks a great athlete. But...’

While Murray, who begins his 21st Grand Slam tournament on Tuesday against Slovakian Karol Beck, is judged to be the greatest British player of the professional era, Federer and Nadal have dominated tennis for almost six years, winning 21 of the past 23 major championships.

Andy Murray

Something to prove: Andrew Castle says Murray will struggle to win a major while Federer and Nadal are still at the top of their game

Nadal has arrived in Australia, as reigning champion of the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, seeking to become the first man to simultaneously hold all four major titles since Rod Laver completed his second Grand Slam in 1969.

‘It’s true, maybe I have this opportunity once in my career,’ said Nadal yesterday. ‘But it’s not for that reason I have pressure — the pressure comes with every Grand Slam.’

At 23, Murray has fallen from a career-best No 2 in the world to No 5, but his 16 titles on the ATP Tour reflect the impact he has made on the game, with eight wins already over Federer and four against Nadal.

He has banked around $14million in prizemoney, with millions more earned from commercial contracts, yet the expectation on him is not unlike that on Wayne Rooney or golfer Lee Westwood; two men with phenomenal success behind them but still in need of a major or global trophy.

There are still suspicions over Murray’s temperament on the big stage.

John Lloyd, Britain’s former Davis Cup captain, said: ‘Andy played tremendously well last year at two Grand Slams, reaching the final in Australia, and the semis at Wimbledon, but he didn’t show up at the other two, in Paris and New York.

‘He didn’t take responsibility for himself on the court. He was looking at his box and being sarcastic. You don’t see Nadal or Federer doing that.

‘At times, Andy’s a really brilliant player. He’s reached two finals at Grand Slam tournaments, losing on both occasions to Federer, in New York in 2008, then Australia 12 months ago, and there is no shame in that.

‘But there is still an uncertainty over which Andy Murray will turn up — to become a champion he has to win the battle over his own mind.

‘If we see the Murray we saw at Wimbledon or New York, then, of course, he will give himself a chance to win a major this year. But if not, then it will be bye-bye for another year.’


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