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Footloose & Feminist: Andy Murray Through to Round Three

By: Andrew Eccles

Andy Murray knows his own heart.

The British No. 1 has long battled for acceptance from his nation, success among his peers, a spot in history. In the past, he has spoken at length about feeling most at home on a tennis court – the world beyond the tramlines a comparatively more complex arena. Given the traumatic experience he suffered in childhood, it is unsurprising that Murray likes to maintain ultimate control of his own destiny.

Last season was one of many transitions for Murray, who was recovering from a back surgery he underwent not long after finally lifting the Wimbledon trophy. In the months following, Ivan Lendl, the coach who had helped him to victory, and whom Murray trusted greatly, decided to conclude his time within Murray’s team. The Brit was left reeling, struggling to recover, to maintain his ranking, and even just for clarity.

He chose a new coach, one that would cause further ruptures within his team. Best friend, hitting partner and sometime coach Daniel Vallverdu felt the appointment of Amelie Mauresmo as head coach was not the right decision to make. Tensions lingered before it was decided that Vallverdu would go; Mauresmo would stay. It is a bold move, to put behind a consistent figure and move forward with someone new, but a move that Murray insists he is sure of.

It was a difficult year, but likely a necessary one.

Mauresmo quickly became controversial thanks to her gender, an issue that has endured since the former No. 1 and two-time major champion stepped into the role. There are those who do not believe a woman can coach a man, that they lack an understanding of the men’s game, stemming from a perceived inferiority of women’s sport. When you look closely at Mauresmo’s experience on the tour though, she is a strikingly perfect fit for Murray.

Like the Brit, she endured the pressures of a rowdy and passionate home crowd, one that held her to a high standard, accountable for every loss. Like the Brit, she was treated with a certain disdain for simply being herself; Mauresmo was openly gay from early in her career, while Murray was plagued by perceived as anti-English after joking about football in his younger years. Like the Brit, Mauresmo was a quieter figure off the court, making her impact with a racket in hand.

The proof will be in the results, but now that 2014 is over, the Murray-Mauresmo partnership has a real chance to make a move on the ATP World Tour.

Ahead of Murray’s second round tie with Australian world No. 81 Marinko Matosevic, @BBCTennis stirred up the issue of anti-Mauresmo discussion among men in the sport. Tweeting a quote from Matosevic himself:

The BBC failed to clarify that Matosevic has since apologized for his remarks, both to Murray and Mauresmo, and that Murray speaks highly of his Australian opponent. Murray is a noted fan of the women’s game (his favorite player is the ever-popular Agnieszka Radwanska) and is not one to take criticisms of the women lightly.

So to the match, and the clear improvements that have already taken shape in Murray’s game.

“Mad Dog” Matosevic can be a threat on a tennis court, and his challenge came among an over-arching charge from the Australian contingent this week. A total of 11 Australian players made it through to the second round in Melbourne after a series of thrilling first round victories. Matosevic himself fought back from the brink against Alexander Kudryavtsev, eventually winning, 6-4, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. This marked the Australian’s first victory at his home slam, having lost in the first round every year since 2010.

Murray, as usual the only Brit to make it to the second round, had a far less tiring 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 victory over Yuki Bhambri, and is a three-time finalist at this event. History was also on his side: in three former encounters with Matosevic, Murray had never yielded a set, including just 12 days earlier at the Hopman Cup, where the Brit had triumphed, 6-3, 6-2.

Any threat that Matosevic might have posed was quickly extinguished, a combination of his opponent’s class and his own fatigue rendering the encounter a one-sided affair.

Murray has always been noted for his movement, but his performances this season have showcased some of the greatest foot-speed he has ever delivered. Attempt to get a ball past Murray this month has been a fool’s errand – his court coverage has been simply astonishing.

Another improvement is his willingness to come to the net, no doubt an influence of Mauresmo, a ubiquitous presence in the forecourt throughout her career. His net game is solid too, missing only one point during the match when he made an approach.

This is a faster, more aggressive Murray, and one to which Matosevic had no answer. The scoreboard moved quickly, and Murray progressed to the second round, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.

Matosevic can leave Melbourne Park feeling proud that he achieved a better result than his previous five attempts, but will need to examine his game closely if he wants to compete with the best in the future.

For his part, Murray looks a big threat for this title, albeit with a harder path to follow. If the seeds hold, the former No. 2 would have to defeat Federer, Nadal and Djokovic consecutively. Win or lose, the signs suggest the times of painful transition are over, and Murray can again focus on playing his best tennis.

He continues his campaign in the third round, where he will face world No. 55 Joao Sousa.

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