Andy Murray can complete three-quarters of a career Grand Slam by winning the Australian Open, the first of the four Grand Slam tournaments that take place during the regular season. Juan Martin Del Potro is the last player to win a major outside the four dominant players of the current year and can progress to the final if he is on the opposite side of the draw to Murray.
The tournament usually has a later date in the schedule but this year takes place from next Monday. There are 128 players in both the men’s and women’s draw. The Australian Open is played outdoors on hardcourts in Melbourne at the height of the Australian summer. Matches can be played in extremely high temperatures so fitness and stamina are key in such conditions.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are at the head of the betting markets and should be seeded to play in the final but Murray and Del Potro have the credentials to upset the formbook and contest a Grand Slam final for the first time. This projection is draw dependent but on current world rankings a final eliminator between Murray and Del Potro is a feasible scenario.
Whatever Murray achieves in his career he will always be remenbered as the first British player to win the Wimbledon title for 77 years. As the BBC commentator Andrew Castle remarked after Murray won the match winning point: “The wait is over”. The country that stages the most prestigious tournament in the world had finally got one of its own as the champion.
Murray is Scottish by birth and there is a bit of a joke that when he wins he’s British but when he loses he is Scottish. He was once quoted as saying that he would support any international soccer side except England. However, in winning the gold medal at the Olympics he showed himself loyal to Britain. He probably won’t make common knowledge how he will vote in this year’s referendum about independence for Scotland.
Only seven male players have won each of the four Grand Slams in the history of the sport. This small group have won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open. It is such a rare feat as the surfaces are so different and require contrasting skills. In the modern era Federer is the best all-rounder exponent of the sport and he and Nadal have won all four of the majors.
Murray will struggle to complete the set as the French Open on clay may be beyond him. In the era of Nadal it will be difficult for any other player to win the French Open. Nadal is a similar age to Murray so will always be around unless injury curtails his career. Murray must adapt his game to be more effective on clay.
He would clearly like to join that elite group of players who have won all the Grand Slams. One potential problem is the short gap in the schedule between the French Open and Wimbledon. If he had more time to prepare for the grass court season he may become more focused on winning in Paris.
Murray’s ultimate career aim was to win the Wimbledon title. Now that objective has been achieved he may focus on more clay court tournaments, possibly the minor events that are not part of the European clay court swing. There are several clay tournaments in South America and it would only help his cause in the context of winning the French Open if he added some of them to his schedule.
Djokovic has beaten Murray in two finals in the Australian Open. The championships are played in conditions that make fitness key to any player’s chances. Murray now spends the of-season at a training camp in Miami so he can be at his best in terms of form and fitness for the Australian Open.
The Serb has now won six Grand Slams and is another player that needs to win the French Open to complete the set. He lost in the final of the US Open on hardcourts to Nadal last September and ended the season behind his great rival in the world rankings. Djokovic did not add to his tally of majors after last season’s Australian Open and will be determined to win another major at the one in which he has had most success.
Nadal came back from a lengthy break from the game this time last year after a serious injury. He won multiple regular tournaments and two Grand Slams, including his beloved French Open for the eighth time. He played one of the best matches of his career in bearing Djokovic in five sets in the semi-finals in Paris. The match turned on one crucial point which Djokovic won only to concede after running into the net.
Nadal will struggle to add to the only Wimbledon title he has won in 2009. He also has the problem of adjusting his game in the small window of time between the French Open and Wimbledon. He is destined to win the French Open ten times and he has already won one of the majors more times than any other player. Only late in his career is he likely to sacrifice a French Open to win the Wimbledon championships again.
Del Potro won the US Open in 2009 and since then the Grand Slams have been shared between Murray, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Del Potro is unfortunate to be at his peak in arguably the best era for men’s tennis. He showed in the Olympics and Wimbledon last year that he can still compete at the highest level. He has the ability and fitness to win in Melbourne and it would be good for the sport if he broke the monopoly of the Big Four.
The most popular winner of the Australian Open would be the Aussie Leyton Hewitt. He has reached the veteran stage now and won’t be adding to the Wimbledon title he won in 2002 and US Open in 2001, his only Grand Slam titles to date. However, Hewitt could progress deep into the draw but will not be able to prevent Murray winning his first Australian Open that would leave just the French Open to win to achieve a career Grand Slam.