Shenzen success hints at long overdue return to the top for Murray

The 2012 US Open, Wimbledon 2013, and the 2014 ATP Shenzhen Open?

While the latter might not strike you as a tournament of great importance, it could well turn out to be when the Gods of tennis look back on Andy Murray’s career, and highlight it as a turning point, where he managed to win his first title since his monumental Wimbledon triumph, over a year prior.

As an ATP 250 level tournament, in its inaugural year, the Shenzhen Open’s field did not feature many recognisable names to those who don’t follow the sport closely, with world number five, David Ferrer, going into the tournament as the top seed. In fact, Murray’s highest ranking opponent came in the shape of beaten finalist Tommy Robredo, who sits at twenty-first in the world.

The decision for Murray to compete in Shenzhen was never about playing the world’s very best however. He has openly spoken of his impatience to experience the thrill of lifting a trophy and he thought of this as an opportunity to end a title drought that has seen him fall out of the world’s top ten for the first time since 2008.

Compared to his normal lofty standards, 2014 has been an unusually dry year for the British number one. Surgery on a troublesome back that plagued Murray for the last couple of years saw him miss the latter stages of the 2013 season, and he has struggled to rediscover the form that took him to number two in the world since then.

The split with coach Ivan Lendl in March has also contributed to some of the Scot’s struggles. Under Lendl, Murray claimed his maiden Grand Slam and later became the first British man to win the Wimbledon singles title in seventy seven years. While Murray has since hired Amélie Mauresmo as his coach, major results have yet to follow and the shadow of Lendl still looms large, as an unwanted reminder of what once was.

With the final Grand Slam of the year out of the way, the ATP Tour has entered what is often referred to as its ‘Asian Swing’. Tournaments in Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Tokyo and Shanghai provide a golden opportunity for players to pick up valuable ranking points as they look to qualify for the season ending Tour Finals, where only the top eight in the world are eligible to compete.

Although Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have all already booked their places, the remaining five places are still up for grabs. Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka and recently crowned US Open champion Marin Čilić are fourth and fifth respectively, both looking good to qualify with just over a month until top eight will be finalised.

Despite currently sitting at tenth in the rankings, Murray holds a significant advantage over his closest competitors. While back surgery may have forced him to miss these tournaments last year, it means he has no ranking points to defend, unlike his rivals who will lose points if they fail to match their results of 2013.

An uphill battle still faces the Scot, but he has started where he needs to: at the bottom. Little victories are sometimes the most important, and amongst the skyscrapers of Shenzhen, the British number one laid the foundations for more.

After a torrid 2014, a year of niggling injuries, dispiriting defeats, divisive coaching decisions and dangerously political tweets, Murray could still end his season on a high.

 

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