In the immediate aftermath of his triumph at the US Open, Andy Murray used the word “relief” more than once. Aside from the pure achievement of winning his first Grand Slam singles title, getting that monkey off his back was clearly a huge thing and the consensus seems to be that now he has won one, more will follow.
If he is fully fit, he will be a favourite to win in Australia, where he has twice made the final. The hot conditions suit him because he is so fit but the key is that others will look at him and know that he no longer doubts himself, that he feels himself to be a champion. ''Once you win, you have no doubt that you can win,'' his coach, Ivan Lendl was quoted as saying this week.
With the pressure off, Murray is likely to show everyone just how good he really is. Lendl told him that he will never feel as much pressure again as he did when he played in the Wimbledon final this summer and that’s a fascinating comment, for in nine months' time, the expectations are going to be high that he can be Britain's first male Wimbledon champion since 1936.
“I know how difficult it is to win one of these tournaments and I think it will help me and hopefully take a bit of the pressure away from me,” Murray said.
Whatever happens, he will always be a Grand Slam champion and the effect that has on Murray means he will be even more dangerous when he gets to The All England Club in June. He loves the surface and the Scot has coped with pressure superbly at Wimbledon over the years. What he learned in losing to Roger Federer this year helped him a month later when he crushed the Swiss to win the Olympic gold medal, seemingly free of any shackles, hitting the ball 10 per cent harder than in the Wimbledon final and with a clear mind. At the US Open, having fought his way through some tough battles to get there, and then let slip a two-set lead in the final, he resolved to give everything he had, found his best tennis when he needed to and got over the line.
Tim Henman, who knows a thing or two about home expectations, says it is a shame that it took Murray crying after losing to Federer at Wimbledon to endear himself to the British public. The effect is the important thing. Come next summer, Murray is going to be a bigger crowd favourite than ever and with the confidence he has gained from that crucial first Grand Slam title, he will be a huge threat.
Winning Grand Slam titles is something few people are able to do, so imagine what it will do for Murray’s confidence. He wants to win several Grand Slams and the vindication that not only is he good enough, as all his rivals have always said, but that he was able to do it, is an enormous boost to his self-belief.
Federer showed this summer that when he is on his game, especially on a grass court, he is still not to be counted out, but he will be a year older come June, while Murray will just have turned 26, arguably in his absolute prime. He still has areas of his game he wants to improve – “I can serve better,” he said, “and be better at not letting players back in when I am ahead in sets” – but that is only a good thing.
Rafael Nadal will doubtless return from injury at his old level and Djokovic will be desperate to add to his tally of five Grand Slams. But as Henman said: “People have looked differently at Andy since he won the Olympics, and now he has won his first Slam, so that’s going to make a difference too. I’ve always thought that Andy could win several Slams, and that the first one would be the hardest. Now he’s won the first one. I think he will win many more, I really do.”