It wasn’t a changing of the guard. Andy Murray, with now two consecutive important tennis tournament victories under his belt, did not signal the start of a new era in tennis. He is not ready to take over the tennis world, launching himself into a new stratosphere wherein Andy Murray dominates down under, teases hapless challengers on the bizarre surfaces at the French and Wimbledon, and rules New York every fall. Andy Murray, simply put, is not the new king of Men’s tennis.
Or maybe he is? Either way, it isn’t important.
What is important is that Andy Murray is now one of them. After five years of being “the other guy” in grand slam semi-finals, alongside the three-headed monster of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, Murray can finally look sideways, not up, at those three players. Instead of being remembered as the guy who was permanently ranked fourth in the world; the guy who was greater than all the rest, just not great enough to win. The guy who crumbled and looked flustered when he looked across the net and saw Roger, or Rafa, or Novak, Murray is in the club.
Stepping back from the glory of Murray’s moment, it would be easy to look at the numbers and realize that Murray has barely made his mark. After all, three men have dominated tennis since 2005, and Murray is not one of them. Since 2008, when Murray came on the scene (he made his first grand slam final at the U.S. Open that year) the holy triumvirate of Men’s tennis had won every major except for one before last night. Logically speaking, Murray has merely reached the level of Juan Martin del Potro.
But to categorize Murray at the level of Del Potro, or other one-championship players of the 21st century (Safin, Gaudio, Costa, Johanssen, Roddick, etc.) is to do Murray a great disservice. He was, and is, clearly better than all of the players on that list. Though Murray never won a Grand Slam before last night (the Olympics, notwithstanding), he has stayed consistently in the top four of the rankings for the past four years. Before last night, he was consistently good enough, great enough even, just not transcendent enough, to belong with tennis’ big three.
So for Murray, even if he never wins another Grand Slam title, last night was more than just one victory. Winning this one title for Murray should mean as much as Djokovic’s five, Nadal’s 11 and Federer’s 17. Winning the U.S. Open should elevate him forever out of the dustbin also-rans that will ultimately litter this generation of men’s tennis players. And Murray deserves it. For years he has been Ted Williams facing a sea of DiMaggio’s; Dan Marino, when those ahead of him were Montana or Elway; Karl Malone facing a trio of Michael Jordans.
Now he’s one of them, and we can always remember him that way.