Andy Murray looks like a one-hit wonder.
In the Australian Open final, Murray had Novak Djokovic almost dangling on the end of a hook, facing three break points in what proved to be a momentum-shifting game early in the second set.
But he couldn’t reel in the Serb, who now has six major titles and the top of men’s tennis to himself with age slowly blunting Roger Federer’s abilities and Rafael Nadal’s future clouded by creaky knees.
This was Murray’s chance to capitalize on his breakthrough year in 2012, when he won his first major title and Olympic gold.
Had Murray won again Sunday, Britons could have joked that major titles for British men are like London buses: you wait ages for one and then two come along in quick succession.
Murray ruined the punch line.
His 7-6 (2),6-7 (3), 3-6, 2-6 loss in Melbourne to Djokovic was gritty but felt like a step back not a step forward. At this stage of his career, Murray needs to be regularly winning major finals, not just reaching them, if he wants to be remembered for more than just one exceptional year in 2012.
That Murray allowed a feather falling onto the court to throw off his serve in the second set tiebreaker and squandered match-changing break points made one wonder whether his curse is that he has the physical tools to be a great tennis player but not the mind.
Backing up that argument is Murray’s now near-dismal record in major finals: played six, won just one _ against Djokovic at the U.S. Open last September.
That was the first major for a British man since Fred Perry in 1936. It was historic but not, in itself, an answer to the question of whether Murray is simply a very good player or has the makings of a great one.
A victory for Murray on Sunday to go with his U.S. Open crown and his Olympic gold won at home last August would have looked like a power shift at the top of men’s tennis, especially since Murray beat Federer for the first time in four attempts at a major to reach Sunday’s final.
Instead, the loss to Djokovic made Murray’s 2012 wins look more like exceptions than the possible beginnings of a new rule.
Still, the successes of 2012 and a whole year of coaching and confidence boosting from Ivan Lendl have clearly made a startling difference.
Unlike the pre-Lendl Murray, the new Murray doesn’t so often look as if he swallowed a cocktail of vinegar and lemon juice. He still grimaces and mutters to himself and yells at his entourage when shots go awry. But he has ditched the loser’s body language and hang-dog look that too often used make his defeats seem like self-fulfilling prophecies.
Still, Murray’s positive outlook and the more aggressive, take-it-to-the-opponent shot-making that flows from it weren’t enough to beat Djokovic this time. The Serb’s wells of confidence and resolve seem deeper than anyone’s in tennis with the possible exception of Nadal.