Tennis great John McEnroe is urging Andy Murray to lighten up and take a leaf out of Roger Federer’s book as the Scot bids to break Novak Djokovic’s grand slam stranglehold in 2016.
Djokovic and Murray will arrive in Australia for next month’s season-opening major at Melbourne Park as the world’s top two players for the first time.
But the gap between one and two has never been wider, with Djokovic an odds-on favourite to land an unprecedented sixth men’s Australian Open crown after posting some ridiculous numbers in 2015.
He amassed 11 titles, including three majors, and a record $US21,592,125 ($A29.87 million) in prize money, with only a surprise four-set loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final ultimately denying the Serb the first calendar-year grand slam sweep in 46 years.
Murray also enjoyed one of his finest-ever seasons, highlighted by his mighty 11-from-11 effort to pilot Great Britain to its first Davis Cup triumph since 1936.
For all Djokovic’s dominance, including three victories over Murray in Australian Open finals, McEnroe believes the Scot’s Davis Cup heroics could vault the 28-year-old to new heights in 2016 – just as Djokovic reigned in Melbourne amid a 41-match winning streak to start 2011 after leading Serbia to its first trophy six years ago.
“Even though it looks like Novak is unbeatable, it’s hard to imagine he can keep up this pace,” McEnroe told The Tennis Podcast.
“Playing as part of a team is something that Andy really enjoyed, and particularly playing with his brother.
“That’s going to bring back a lot of fond memories as he looks back in his career.
“So this could propel him because it forces him to stay sharp and stay in condition a little bit longer (in the year) than he’s used to.
“So he has to do less off-court training before he plays the Australian … it could propel him here at this event where he has to find that edge.”
While McEnroe suspects Murray will be in a “slightly better frame of mind and slightly better shape” entering the Australian summer, he wants to see the 28-year-old enjoy his rivalry with Djokovic more in the heat of battle.
“To be more positive and smile on the court more – since I was so bloody good at it myself,” said tennis’s original superbrat.
“I’m definitely serious.
“It certainly hurt me in my career that I wasn’t able to enjoy the moment as much as I would have liked, a la Roger Federer who, even in defeat, seems to be able to shrug that off extremely well and even at an advanced age tennis-wise, to learn from it and I envy that. I respect it.
“I saw the same with (Jimmy) Connors, who was one of my great rivals, where he was able to get extremely intense and negative at times, but he was able to turn that around and suddenly he’s putting his arm around one of the fans’ shoulders and sort of laughing and making a joke.
“I was always amazed and irritated – because it happened often when we played – that he was able to do that.
“I sympathise with the difficulty of it, but if he (Murray) was able to appreciate the moment a bit more, I think it would help him, if nothing else, last a little bit longer playing.”
McEnroe would also like to see Murray improve his second serve and net play, like Djokovic and Rafael Nadal both did to take their grand slam tallies to double digits.
“Ultimately, mentally, it’s all about attitude and belief and getting yourself in a position where you think you can handle anything that’s thrown at you,” he said.
“And when push comes to shove, that’s where the bigger tests come with Novak and that’s hard to change.
“But the beauty about sports, is that things can change quickly … more than you actually expect and this could be his next year.”
Like Djokovic, Murray has opted against playing any tournament propers in Australia in the lead-up to the Open, instead choosing to fine-tune his game at the Hopman Cup mixed teams exhibition event in Perth from January 3.
Local stars Lleyton Hewitt, preparing for his record 20th straight and farewell Australian Open, and Nick Kyrgios will also feature at the Hopman Cup, as will women’s world No.1 Serena Williams.
World No.3 Federer will launch his 2016 season as defending champion at the Brisbane International, also starting three days into the new year.
Australian No.1s Bernard Tomic and Samantha Stosur will also make their first appearances of the year in Brisbane.
All roads lead to Melbourne for the Open getting underway on January 18, with the men’s and women’s draws both featuring 99 of the world’s top 100 players.