Can Murray bury the Slam-less burden?
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andy Murray is one win away from relieving Great Britain of a 75-year men's Grand Slam tennis drought. More important to Murray: A win over Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final Sunday would end his own dry spell.
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No more questions from hoards of British journalists, as well as scribes from other nations, about the burden he carries. Mind you, until he wins Wimbledon, he'll still have naysayers back home.
More sponsors are sure to be knocking on his door, be it in the UK or Miami, where he habitually spends his offseasons. Had Murray downed Roger Federer in last year's Australian Open final, one report suggested he'd have earned about $80 million a year, snuggling up to David Beckham, the brand himself, in the sponsorship stakes.
Finally, people will stop saying he's one of the best active players never to have won a major.
"The historical thing, it's not something that I've thought about that much, but it's something that obviously for me personally I want to try and win," Murray said. "I also don't want to sort of get myself so amped up that I play a stinker of a match. If you go in thinking, 'Yeah, no one's won for 60 years,' I might never get another chance."
Based on his performance against David Ferrer in Friday's semifinal, however, there's work to be done against Djokovic, who's coming off a straight-sets win against Federer. Murray began shakily, picked it up, then dipped a little. Ultimately, he prevailed 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1, 7-6 (2) in a 3-hour, 46-minute slugfest to land in a third Grand Slam final.
"I think it's going to be very tough for Andy to rebound off this and beat Novak," said Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion. "Novak is at the height of his confidence. Andy's not going to win by pushing the ball around. He's got to blow Novak off the court. If Federer can't do it -- there aren't many people who can do that at the moment. I don't see how he can."
Will Murray be 100 percent? He felt his hip or back more than once, and it appeared to derail him, if only temporarily. Being involved in an encounter that featured at least four 20-plus rallies can do that. Murray has only one day to regroup, while Djokovic had extra time off after playing his semifinal a day earlier.
"I'm sure every player in the draw would rather have an extra day," Murray said.
Murray, no matter what he said, was the substantial favorite against Ferrer, who was appearing in his second Grand Slam semifinal. Ferrer took advantage of Rafael Nadal's aching hamstring in the quarterfinals, ending any chance of a "Rafa Slam."
Murray has frequently disappointed in majors when he's been expected to dazzle. The debacle versus Federer in last year's final was a case in point. Coming off a win over Nadal two rounds earlier, he labored against a fatigued Marin Cilic in the semis before winning in four. The affair turned on a single point, as Murray, down a set, chased a lob, swiveled and struck a forehand to break early in the second.
There was a similar moment against Ferrer. Again down a set and facing set point at 4-5, a big serve down the middle saved him.
Murray's serve continues to draw debate. Earlier in the set, three potent serves fended off three break points, adding weight to Murray's feeling that at crunch time, his serve bails him out of trouble.
"In the important moments, he served really well, no?" Ferrer said.
On a sourer note, the first three times Murray broke Ferrer, he immediately dropped serve. In the opening set, Murray converted only 59 percent of first serves. Ferrer gobbled up his second serves, winning 73 percent of those points.
Murray's backhand, one of the best in the world, was spotty, although his forehand, not considered one of the best in the world, frequently impressed. Murray took it to Ferrer, striking 60 winners.
Murray might say he's not the favorite against an in-form Djokovic, even though he's beaten the Serb three straight times, all on hard courts. That's up for debate.
The one certainty is that if he's to end the drought, he can ill-afford the inconsistency showed against Ferrer.
"The last thing Andy wanted to do was get into a slugging match, and that's what it was for two sets," Cash said. "He just had enough firepower. He's just a bigger, stronger guy than David, and that was the difference, really."
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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