29 Jan 2011

Andy Murray’s emotional battle in the Australian Open final

As Andy Murray goes for glory at the Australian Open, a leading sports psychologist and former GB tennis player tells Channel 4 News the British number one must forget his opponent is also his friend.

Tennis star Andy Murray plays in the Australian Open. (Reuters)

British number one Andy Murray takes on his friend and practise partner Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the Australian Open final. But he must channel his emotions and put aside his friendship to succeed, says sports psychologist and ex-player Amanda Owens.

What should Murray do to mentally make his friend Novak Djokovic his “enemy”?

In professional sport, especially in tennis as it is a one-on-one combative sport and a psycholgical gladiatorial contest, it is very much a mental battle. On the court Murray is there to win (off the court he can and will respect Djokovic as his friend and hitting-partner as well as great player).

Murray needs to focus on his match game-plan, match-strategy; focus on his strengths and on each point, not on the fact he is playing his friend and that he has the opportunity of being the first male Briton to win a grand slam title since Fred Perry.

Murray has beaten Djokovic three times before on hard courts which he needs to remind himself of and not be carried away by the final, emotionally or through mental fatigue. Murray said earlier that “this is a personal dream of mine and you can’t avoid it”. However, he continues to be aware and recognises he must not “let myself get ahead of the game.”

He lost at this stage last year. How does he block that from his mind?

Last year was a year that for many months Murray underperformed and crashed out of tournaments after his loss in the Australian Open final to Federer. He was emotionally spent and lost his drive and focus due to the enormity of the final and the fact he played outstanding tennis to reach it. He was also 5-2 up and let it slip to Federer who played sublime tennis.

Emotions are good, however, it is realising and knowing how to manage moods at the correct time and during a match. Amanda Owens

Murray has had a challenging last year both professionally and personally. However, it is through adversity that we learn and grow stronger; this has enabled Murray to grow mentally tougher. The tour and tennis is hard and it enables growth and development and some deep existential questions arise about mustering the strength and belief to continue; the awareness of what it takes to be a champion as well as to fulfil his potential and be the best he can be; future world number one.

Commitment, mental toughness, resilience and grittiness; to be able to dig-deep and maintain focus throughout a match and intensity and as Rudyard Kipling famously said, “treat those same imposters the same”.

He must also manage his anger and emotions. He must control unhelpful emotions, which can boil over, and have previously affected winning positions for him in matches. Emotions are good, however, it is realising and knowing how to manage moods at the correct time and during a match.

How do you think Murray’s adapted to cope with the pressure?

I am impressed with the evident change and awareness of Andy Murray in his on-court behaviour and the way he has mastered the ability to control his emotions, remain focused and composed – as he is a fiery player and personality. However, he needs to allow the emotions to work for him and manage his moods so that that he does not implode and end up playing himself.

He needs to conserve mental strength for key points and be smart as he was against Ferrer, so that he does not suffer mental fatigue or the nervousness of wanting so much to win. It takes mental discipline and focus and Murray, it appears, has learnt an awful lot from last year. It means he’s able to go up a gear and come up with outstanding shots under pressure – which is the sign of a future champion.

Amanda Owens is an internationally-recognised sports psychologist and a former Great Britian tennis player. Her consultancy is called Believe.