A Year Later, Djokovic and Murray Find Themselves on Different Paths in Miami.

“I don’t feel great on the court, and everybody could see that, so…Life goes on, you know. I’ve gotta rest now and try to make up for these defeats on clay courts.” – Novak Djokovic, after his loss to Olivier Rochus in Miami on March 26th, 2010.

“I feel better than I did last year, but I feel like last year I was at least playing a bit better than I was this year. So I don’t really know what that means, if mentally I feel better, but my tennis isn’t where I’d like it to be. It’s a difficult one.” – Andy Murray, after his loss to Alex Bogomolov Jr. in Miami on March 25th, 2011.

I really hoped to avoid any lengthy discussion on the Sony Ericsson Open, at least for a week. Indian Wells wore me out a bit and I was content to let Miami slide around and not really focus too much on the results, despite it being the “Fifth Slam”. But, to quote Al Pacino from “The Godfather III”, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The “they” in this case is a “he” that goes by the name of Andy Murray who lost again in an opening round match to Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-1, 7-5 today, making Murray now 6-4 on the year since reaching the finals in Melbourne. The press, especially the UK media, many of whom seem to carry a laptop in one hand and a switchblade in the other, was quick to slide their barbs even deeper into the wounded carcass that is Murray’s game right now.

The echo of “here we go again” could be heard by fans around the world, the echo being the fact that Murray went through a similar slump last year after losing to Roger Federer in Australia before turning it around, it seemed, by reaching the Wimbledon semifinals and then later in the summer winning the title in Toronto with wins over Federer and Rafael Nadal. But it’s the current slump that started with the bizarre way Murray played and acted during his losing effort against eventual champion Novak Djokovic that has many worried that this slump, funk or whatever you want to call it, is a fundamental issue that must be addressed if Murray hopes of even staying in the top ten, let alone trying to contend for a Major.

So why the quote from Djokovic at the top of this post? Well, it’s obvious since “Nole” was going through his own slump at the same time last year with many wondering if he had the physical or even mental fortitude to remain at the top of the game. It’s interesting to me that Djokovic reached the semis of Wimbledon just as Murray did, but his run was overshadowed by Murray’s run as if Djokovic would just be forever known as the consistent but “forgotten” No. 3 player in the world. Since then, Djokovic has “flipped the script” to now where he’s handed out “bagels” and “breadsticks” on a consistent basis in the early rounds of events and has yet to lose a match since the Davis Cup finals last December.

Djokovic has been quoted as saying he’s made peace, more or less, with whatever issues he was dealing with last year and the results speak for themselves. Murray, in his press conference today, said it was “my responsibility” in terms of deciding if he needs a new coach, something most everyone in the tennis world agrees Murray needs ASAP. But the word “responsibility” suggests to me that Murray realizes that no matter how many coaches, trainers, sports psychologists and the like are thrown his way, whatever his “issue” is, and I do believe it’s a fundamental one, not only with his game but within his own psyche, that he alone is the only one who can address and solve it. One could say that’s a lot to ask from a 23-year-old. But Djokovic did it. Why can’t Murray?

Djokovic and Murray are scheduled to play doubles together tomorrow in Miami. How they fare as a team won’t be as interesting as seeing the two men, who’ve known each other a long time and are friends, interact with each other during this transition period in their lives. And make no mistake, this is a transition period for both men. One who appears poised to make a run for greater glory and a chance at No. 1 while the other, well, who knows if he will stay status quo which could force him down the rankings or find a way back to his winning ways, a move that would have everyone soon describing the past two months as a momentary “blip” on his year. Whatever the case, 2011 will certainly be a memorable year for both Djokovic and Murray, even if they do find themselves down different paths at the end of it.

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