By Melina Harris
Although I started the year praising Andy Murray’s cheerful new attitude and criticizing the negativity of the British press, I cannot help but discuss how he has seemingly gone from hero to zero in a strange start to 2010 for the outspoken Scot. After endearing hearts and minds with his sunny and supportive performances with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in January and his subsequent impressive run to the final at the Australian Open, he’s managed to obtain a rather negative image as the new ‘diva’ of the game, pulling out of tournaments at the last minute, ‘going back on his word’ and being accused of not showing enough respect to third tier tournaments, regarding them as on a par with his training.
Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has started 2010 a little differently and is beginning to challenge his image as a one hit wonder. His hilarious impressions of other players (endearing himself to the followers of You Tube), along with his often flaky performances and flimsy excuses in post match interviews have often caused critics to write off ‘The Djoker’ of the tour, preferring Murray as the more serious contender to Federer’s throne. However, with his continued commitment to the ATP tour and his country, Nole is beginning to dismantle the challenge of his young Scottish contemporary (they are almost exactly the same age, with their birthday’s just weeks apart) at least from a PR perspective.
Unlike Murray, who has pulled out of two tournaments, Djokovic played in Rotterdam (a title that Murray won last year), won the recent Barclays Dubai Championship and is committed to representing his country in the Davis Cup next week as Serbia face the United States in the World Group, meanwhile Murray is leaving his British counterparts to drown alone in the depths of the Euro/African zone Group Two.
Indeed, it cannot be denied that Murray is starting to gain a bad reputation amongst tournament organizers, journalists and fans across the globe for his recent behavior. After pulling out of the Marseille event at the last minute, leaving the tournament without their top seed, because he claimed he hadn’t yet recovered physically or mentally from his huge disappointment in Melbourne, Jean-Francois Coujolle, the tournament director retaliated stating devastatingly for Murray that, ‘He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one. A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The number one seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.’
Murray’s ensuing erratic performance in the second round of the Barclays Dubai Championship, where he lost to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic unconvincingly, spraying error after error from his usually solid backhand wing and uncharacteristically charging the net and serve-volleying regularly coupled with his candid comments in his press conference have added more fuel to the fire.
Following his loss, Murray commented nonchalantly, ‘I would like to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a grand slam or something, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different. I was trying different things, so I made more mistakes than normal, I went for a lot. I said at the start of the year, that when you’re getting ready for the big events, you need to try some things. The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve-volleying and coming forward, you know and taking more risks.’
In other words, that despite being reputed to have been paid around $250,000 to guarantee his appearance and accommodated in the seven star Burj al Arab hotel (which would cost us mere mortals an approximate £2400 per night), he had the stupidity or audacity to describe the Third tier Dubai ATP Tour 500 tournament on a par with his practice ‘knock around’ sets with Miles Maclaghan. It was claimed by The Times newspaper that a veteran sports journalist almost walked out in protest.
Has Mr Murray got too big for his Adidas boots? Are Adidas in fact secretly wishing they’d stayed with his nemesis Nole?
In response to Murray’s words, Djokovic, a Players’ representative on the ATP Council, thought Murray was wrong to use Dubai as an experiment and said diplomatically, ‘You carry certain responsibility when you are in the world’s top five. You cannot just go out there and practice. Every tournament is important. That’s the way I accepted every tournament in my professional career. There are not just a lot of expectations from ourselves and our people that are surrounding us. It’s about the tournament and people who come to watch’; in doing so cementing himself as a professional with his binary opposite Murray as unprofessional, while simultaneously showing a high level of respect for tennis fans and tournament directors alike; a sharp move more customary during a presidential election than a post match interview.
Indeed, Novak’s gutsy performances in Dubai where he defended a title for the first time have added building blocks to the foundations of his exquisite public relations skills, as his last four matches went to three sets and in both the quarter and the semifinals he battled back from being a set down. He commented during the tournament, ‘Today was another example of how much I believe in myself and how much I fight until the end’; fighting talk from the world No. 4.
Yet another blow to Murray’s reputation came from Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organizers of the 18 year old tournament, who obviously already dismayed by the absence of a certain Swiss player who was sidelined with a lung infection, responded by saying, ‘We are not disputing Andy’s effort, but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament. His management company tell us that Andy tends to be very candid but we would love to see him clarify what he meant.’ He also apparently wrote a strongly worded letter to Murray’s management company, 19 Entertainment, one would assume for an apology or at least an explanation.
It cannot go unnoticed of the hypocrisy involved with a tournament already embroiled in controversy after banning Israeli Shahar Peer from even competing in last year’s event; it seems the lucrative event would like to pick and choose its competitors. Can a tournament expect the same level of treatment from the top stars of the game as a Grand Slam? Perhaps they haven‘t heard of a little concept called karma (treat others how you would want to be treated in return or face the consequences).
Perhaps the glitz and glamour of the Dubai tournament, where players are treated like royalty, feted by Sheiks, taken to all of the best parties and housed in seven star luxury was always going to be more Nole’s ‘thing’ and computer gaming enthusiast Murray will prove wise to treat it as a warm up event? Will Novak’s commitments in the Davis Cup prove costly in the long run?
It’s interesting to note that Murray has played just 17 tournaments in the past year that hold ranking points, fewer than any other player in the world’s top twenty but has still managed to accumulate enough points to put a comfortable gap of one thousand between himself and Del Potro at No. 5 in the ATP world rankings.
Who is getting the balance right? Does great PR win you a Grand Slam or will Murray end the year victorious over his Serbian contemporary in dismantling the domination of Federer? The battle continues to sizzle seductively on and off court.
Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.