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Andy Murray must win the yes vote on the court after political dabbling

By on October 15, 2014

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Andy Murray must win the yes vote on the court after political dabbling” was written by Kevin Mitchell, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 24th September 2014 17.09 UTC

Andy Murray is in trouble – not with the English, nor with his mum, but in that ever-swirling shark tank that houses the player rankings. If Britain’s finest tennis player for seven decades doesn’t drag himself back into the world top 10 in the concluding stages of an arduous season, he could be spending the second week of November with his feet up at home in Surrey watching the best players of the calendar year competing for the last trophy of 2014 in the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in Greenwich.

After Novak Djokovic put him out of the US Open, Murray said the prospect of missing his home finale – for which he has qualified seven years in a row, although he missed 2013 because of his back operation – does not unduly worry him. It should, and it surely does. For the first time in six years, he trails the game’s leading pack waiting for a break.

It has been a rough few days for Murray after his decision to share his thoughts on Scottish Independence last week, so distance will lend a little enchantment as he goes hunting for precious ranking points in the minor 250 event in Shenzhen, a teeming economic powerhouse of 15 million people just north of Hong Kong (twinned with Hull and Rotherham, as it happens).

He will remind himself and others what he does best when he steps back on court on Thursday in the second round after a bye, against Somdev Devvarman, and, if he manages to avoid commenting on the merits or otherwise of Alibaba.com and its recent float on the New York Stock Exchange, he will consider he has returned to his proper environment.

Devvarman is 130 players adrift of Murray in the rankings. Logic says the Indian Davis Cupper (who shared his country’s sportsman of the year award with Sachin Tendulkar in 2011) should not detain the double slam winner long. But who can be sure?

Murray has hit a couple of stunning peaks since returning to the Tour in January after his back operation a year ago, but he is still searching for consistency, and three times against quality opponents – Rafael Nadal in Rome, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto and Roger Federer in Cincinnati – he has blown handy leads. He has not won a title since Wimbledon last year – and, whatever his sangfroid, that worries him.

For the first time, China will host three of the non-major categories of ATP events: 250, 500 and Masters 1000 in three weeks, and Murray will be in two of them, moving on next week to Beijing, where 500 points are on offer in the China Open. And the field is commensurately stronger, featuring Djokovic, Nadal, the US Open champion Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, Ernests Gulbis and Fabio Fognini.

The Shanghai Masters, a 1,000-pointer, starts on 5 October and, depending on his results over the next fortnight, Murray will be tempted to squeeze that on to his schedule. A measure of his concern is reflected in his late acceptance of a wildcard in Shenzhen, having stated firmly in New York he would not add to his workload simply to make it to London in November. His 2014 record is reasonable – 38-15 and 22-9 on hard courts. If he wins this week, he’ll get a straight addition of 250 points and would move up to No 10, just 35 points behind Milos Raonic, but this is the tightest race.

The defending champion Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have qualified, and, realistically, the contest for the remaining five places, in January-to-December ranking order, is between the Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka, Cilic, US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, David Ferrer, Berdych, Raonic, Dimitrov, Murray, Tsonga and Gulbis.

Recent history is not on Murray’s side. While it is impossible to judge a points cut-off for the World Tour Finals, the ATP’s chief statistician, Greg Sharko, says: “The last players to qualify [from] outside the Top 10 after the US Open were Frenchmen Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008. They were No15 and No18, respectively.”

While Berdych, in eighth place, is the target for the others at the moment, he has more points already (3,510) than three of the previous five last-place qualifiers. That list reads Wawrinka (3,730), Tsonga (3,490), Fish (2,875), Andy Roddick (3,665) and Fernando Verdasco (3,300) in 2009, when the event moved to London.

Those are just the numbers. The tough-to-read part of the equation is what each of the still-standing candidates has left in the tank at the end of another demanding season. Nishikori surprised everyone with his stamina at Flushing Meadows, while Wawrinka, normally so durable, looked underdone there. Ferrer is never far away from major points but still struggles to get over the line. Berdych has been steady, Raonic vastly improved and Dimitrov a little disappointing after a good start, while Tsonga and Gulbis have been as mercurial as ever.

So Murray needs only to rediscover some of his old zest to make inroads in this field. The points on offer in Shenzhen are small, but a victory would carry greater significance. It would signal a revival of his spirits at the business end of a tournament, something we took for granted only a year ago.

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