12 Jan 2014

UK looks to Murray and co to purge Ashes memories

After the humiliation of England’s Ashes trouncing down under, British sports fans will hope Andy Murray and Laura Robson can recapture the nation’s sporting credibility at the Australian tennis open.

Andy Murray Laura Robson Heather Watson Djokovic Nadal tennis rugby Olympics

So the national sporting humiliation down under has finally come to an end. England’s cricketers were disgraced in Australia in an Ashes series all will want to forget, writes Jordan Jarrett-Bryan. A 5-0 whitewash. A sober slap in the face to British sports fans after an extended drunken period of success in the Olympics, tennis and rugby.

But now we’re returning to the scene of the crime (a sporting crime, of course) as our top tennis players, led by Andy Murray, head to Melbourne for the Australian Open. It’s the location for the first major sports tournament of the year, and all Brits will be hoping the performances of Murray, Laura Robson and co will earn back a slice of credibility for a nation which was goading the Aussies only six months ago.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray (surely we won’t tire of saying that?) is clearly the UK’s best chance of winning the trophy, going one better than last year when he finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic. But unlike 12 months ago, the Scot starts the year with little to no form, having only returned to the court recently after back surgery which kept him out of action for three months.

‘King of clay’

Djokovic is the current Australian Open champion, but licking a few wounds after losing the world number one ranking to Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard missed the Olympics, the 2012 US Open and the Australian Open in 2013 due to a knee injury that threatened to end his career, let alone his season.

Since returning to the court, the man dubbed “king of clay” because of his phenomenal record at the French Open, has won the French and US Open titles, reclaiming the top ranking along the way. The grass surface isn’t where Nadal is strongest, but Djokovic and David Ferrer will have to hit top form to stop Nadal claiming his second Aussie title.

A new wave of British tennis stars will be expected to make their debuts at the same majors where Robson and Murray are expected to reach the later stages.

There isn’t the same pressure and groundswell of excitement surrounding Murray, after he won his first grand slam, the US Open, back in 2012 and then became the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years. But was it precisely that intense scrutiny and pressure that actually drove him on to win two majors and an Olympic gold medal within a year?

Laura Robson won’t share our national fears about returning to Melbourne. She was born there and had much of her tennis education down under, so although she’s British, she may feel an element of returning home. A wrist injury has put her participation in doubt, but the 19-year old will want to show what progress she’s made at one of the biggest stages on the tour.

With reports that British tennis is under pressure to produce more home-grown talent or have its funding severely cut, this is a year Robson, Murray and Heather Watson are expected to reach the later stages of all competitions. But more crucially, a new wave of British tennis stars will be expected to make their debuts at the very same grand slam majors.