Andy Murray finding life at No. 1 anything but charmed
Andy Murray was still a teenager ranked in the 500s when Roger Federer first ascended to the No. 1 ranking in early 2004. Some 237 weeks later, in August 2008, when Rafael Nadal wrested that No. 1 away from Federer, Murray, then 21, was less than one month from reaching his first Grand Slam final.
It would be eight more years -- most of it featuring his junior nemesis and friend Novak Djokovic as the ATP World Tour's top player -- before Murray would finally reach the summit of the game.
It happened last fall, in the midst of a fast and furious run, when Murray blazed his way through the home stretch of the season to become second-oldest man, at 29, to debut at No. 1.
Murray, like most aspiring pros, invariably lists becoming the top player as a future goal. But he was one of the of the few fortunate players -- the 26th on the ATP Tour to be exact -- to live his dream.
But be careful what you wish for. After five months, Andy Murray is beginning to understand just how difficult occupying that rare space can be.
Thursday in Monte Carlo, he was up 4-0 in the third set of a third-round match against Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Coming back from an elbow injury that allowed him to play only one match of the Indian Wells-Miami duathlon, Murray looked scratchy, off-kilter.
The 15th-seeded Ramos-Vinolas won 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 to advance to his first career ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal.
"I'm disappointed to lose from the position that I was in," Murray said to the media in his postmatch interview. "One week ago, I would have been OK with that. But sitting here, being up 4-love in the third, I haven't lost many matches like that in my career."
As the 2017 season opened, it seemed Murray's time had finally come.
With 30-somethings Federer and Nadal apparently in remission, with Djokovic scuffling by his magnificent standards, here was a yawning opening at the top of men's tennis. In winning 2016 Wimbledon, the last two Masters events, in Shanghai and Paris, and the year-end championships in London, Murray created a comfortable margin for error.
He reached the final of his first tournament, Doha, where Djokovic ended Murray's career-high 28-match winning streak. Murray then lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Mischa Zverev before winning Dubai. However, he didn't face anyone ranked higher than Lucas Pouille's No. 15. Then came the March crash-out in America.
A couple of things can happen when you become the No. 1 player: First, especially early on, there's a self-imposed pressure that comes with the ranking. Second, opponents get fired up to play you. Ramos-Vinolas, emboldened by Murray's sloppy play after taking that 4-0 lead, started to play better and took back two breaks of serve. Ramos-Vinolas was previously 0-3 against world No. 1s, a fact he undoubtedly knew going in.
In his news conference, Ramos-Vinolas talked about how happy he was, but added that his 2016 quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros, if only barely, remained the highlight of his career.
Murray's Monte Carlo result after that injury layoff and the transition to clay was predictable. As Murray explained afterward, a new surface creates new problems.
"That's an important part of my game -- playing the correct way in terms of tactics, hitting the ball in the right spots," Murray said. "I don't hit the ball as hard as a lot of guys. I normally beat guys by maneuvering them around the court, rather than blasting them off the court.
"A few times today, I made some bad decisions."
The good news for Murray and his fans? His elbow -- and the serve that places so much stress on it -- held up for the 2-hour, 33-minute match. This, after Murray went nearly two hours in his first match, a 7-5, 7-5 win against Gilles Muller on Wednesday.
"My elbow feels good," Murray reported. "It felt better today than it did yesterday. That's great."
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Murray was asked if he might consider playing Barcelona, where he trained for more than two years as a junior, or Budapest next week, but seemed to lean more toward training to improve his conditioning. His first priority is returning home to London to watch his father-in-law Nigel Sears, who just turned 60, run the 37th London Marathon on Sunday.
Murray still has a big lead over Djokovic (11,600 points to 7,905) for No. 1 ranking, so he again will be the top seed in his next event. The hunted and, possibly, haunted top seed.
Another famous Brit No. 1, William Shakespeare, saw it coming more than 400 years ago, at the end of the 16th Century.
In King Henry IV, Part 2, the old sovereign muses to himself about the complexities of life as a monarch.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," he says.
As Andy Murray continues to discover.