August 19, 2009

With Greatness Comes Great Responsibility

This week marks the start of a new era in men's tennis.

For the first time in over four years Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are not #1 and #2 in the world. After ceding the top spot back to Federer after withdrawing from Wimbledon, Nadal was so unceremoniously upended from second place by Andy Murray after the Scot made -- and won -- the finals in Montreal.

So as the men take the court in Cincinnati for the last Masters event before the U.S. Open, a tournament which drew nine of the top ten players -- Rogers Cup runner-up Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew with fatigue -- there's a lot of pressure on the new #2 to perform.

Today Murray set off to defend his position against twenty-three year old Nicolas Almagro, a man he had lost to at the French Open last year. The first set was close -- amazingly so. The Spaniard had the only break opportunity, but wasn't able to convert; the two served so well that Nicolas lost only nine points in his games -- Andy lost five. But once Murray took the tiebreak there was no looking back. In the second set he allowed Almagro two measly points during his service and quickly ran off with a 7-6, 6-2 win.

So Murray seems to be living up to his #2 ranking so far. As much as I hate to admit it, he certainly has been more impressive than those that surround him. And he hasn't been demure in his climb to the top either, notching victories over all his major competitors this year.

But his greatest test is yet to come. With the Open now less than two weeks away, Murray has to focus on the one accomplishment missing from his resume -- a Grand Slam title. He came close last year, making the finals after a stunning two-day battle in the semis, but despite of a lot of tough talk this year he remains the only player in the top five without the big prize.

Sure, at twenty-two, he's still got time to prove himself, and I'm in no rush to see him make it there. But from his perspective I'm sure he'd rather get it done sooner rather than later. And if he plays like he has over the last week and a half, he should be able to advance well into the bracket, both this week and in Flushing Meadows.

And he better, if he's going to live up to precedent set by the last two people who occupied the spot. With twenty-one Majors and nearly a hundred total titles between them, Roger and Rafa have raised the bar high and Murray has a lot to live up to.

At the very least, it's going to be great to watch these three battle for their own place at the top.

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