Thursday, July 12, 2012

Andy Murray's 17 Shades of Negativity

I'm not referring to the tears. Tears are just fine. They suggest you care, deeply, and that you wanted it so bad that you could taste it. In the same way, I didn't mind those Federer tears after a painful loss to Nadal, or Serena's tears signaling her happiness to be back on court after her health challenges, or her tears of frustration over losing so early in a tournament that everyone expected her to win. Those kind of tears I get, I understand, and sincerely appreciate. Those tears make me admire a player more.

Indeed, Andy's post-match tears touched me so deeply that were he playing against any other opponent, I might have rooted for him. And when his mother started sobbing, I just about lost it. She loves her son, and he is clearly a mama's boy. And I am down with both as long as neither interferes with the player bringing it when he needs to bring it.

And the bringing of it is a distinctly masculine affair. It speaks of confidence and potency, of deliberateness and intentionality, the kind of masculine qualities that the very best male AND female players boast. There's testosterone coursing through all of our blood, regardless of gender. And when a player needs to, he or she must know how to access that masculine space and simply bring it.

Andy didn't. He simply never did. He was so damn negative. It was especially bothersome to observe the negativity of his body language after he lost that second set. In response to that loss, and even more so the loss of the third set against Federer, Andy Murray became all hang-doggy, his head listless, his shoulders drooping, his manner self-critical and self-berating.

And understand that I am not calling these qualities feminine because they are not. They are simply negative. And there is no room in professional tennis for the seventeen shades of negativity I detected in Murray's body language. Trust me, I counted.

In addition to the hang-doggy manner, and the drooping shoulders, and the listless head, and the self-critical manner, and the self-berating, I also noted the following: looking up to the heavens in dismay; looking down to the ground as if hoping a hole would open up and swallow him; squinting in emotional pain; trudging his feet and almost falling over them (when he wasn't literally falling over them); clutching his back; grabbing his thighs; grimacing; groaning; shouting in disbelief; rolling his head; shaking his head from side to side; and looking miserable, bleak and lost. Actually, come to think of, I'm pretty sure there were far more than 17 shades of negativity in Murray's body language during that Wimbledon finals. I'll just stop counting at seventeen, for obvious reasons.

As a psychologist friend of mine afterward observed, any player truly caught up in the excitement and focus of playing a match, would not have noticed pain. Just ask Youzhny who once whacked himself in the forehead, drawing blood, and continued to play the match until the Chair made him stop. But Andy never stopped clutching at this back, his leg, his groin. And I found myself wanting to shout to the TV that if he was that hurt, why didn't he just give Tsonga the damn chance to win his first Slam?

I've tried my hand before at analyzing what's wrong with Andy Murray. Around this time last year, I summarized my opinion of him as follows: “ order to achieve his self-stated goal of getting to the next level, Murray will need more than improvements in his tennis technique. His primary problem seems to lie between his ears. He needs to work on becoming mentally stronger. His slump-fests after losing in majors are nothing short of embarrassing. The great ones are resilient; they bounce back. They don’t go off and lick their wounds for months on end. And most of all, they don't blame others for their losses. They man up and take responsibility.

A year later, I stand by that assessment. There is no room on a tennis court for a petulant slump-fest, neither during a match nor after it. But that was all I could see in Murray's body language. Almost every single time he made a mistake, instead of shoring himself for the next point, he would start becoming all hang-doggy and slumping. And after he lost the third set I knew that he would lose the match because his body language forecasted it.

Let me be fair to Murray. At least he didn't stop playing to curse out Lendl in the box. At least he didn't blame the coach for this loss. And surely if there is one thing that Lendl can teach Murray it's how to persevere in spite of loss, how to dig deep and become even more determined to win, how not to go into a slump-fest and start licking your wounds when the damn match isn't even over!

To be fair to Murray, I personally gave him no chance against Federer. Sure he had a winning head-to-head against my Fed, but that only counted if you included lesser, non-Slam events where Federer was still tooling his game. In a Grand Slam, when it matters, against Murray, Federer brings his A-game. He has beaten him twice before. I went into this third Slam final confident of a Federer victory.

Already I had taken my RF “FIFTEEN” T-shirt which I had bought some years ago, and had crossed out the letters “FIF”, replacing them with the letters “SEVEN”. The red sharpie scrawl was not too artistic but hey this was not about art but about certainty. Yes I was that confident. You can't be a proper Federer fan without some of his arrogance rubbing off on you. It's a fandom hazard, and truly I relish it.


Anonymous said...

I so agree with your assessment of Andy's on court behavior! You forgot he smacked his palm into his forehead a couple of times too. Plus, sadly, this was the improved Andy Murray...

I teach my players how to walk and how to project confidence even if they don't feel it, even when they are losing! Head up, shoulders back, chest out, racket in your non-dominant hand between points. Racket head and human head UP.

If it has to be smoke and mirrors in terms of your body language then so be it, but don't do the droopy thang!

South Carolina

tennischick said...

Thanks Jack. You sound like a great teacher. Thanks so much for your comment.

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