The enduring inquiry directed towards Andy Murray has concerned his mental strength in the heat of battle, particularly against the Big Three of Rafael Nadal, Noval Djokovic and Roger Federer. The answers are sometimes ignored. Murray, it was said, could not beat Federer. Yet he leads the Swiss player 9-8 on head to head. Ah, but he could not beat one of the top three in a grand slam. Yet he has defeated Nadal in the US Open and the Australian Open.
But he can never beat a top player in a grand slam final. This fault endures.
Murray takes part in next week's US Open with a history of four failures at the final hurdle in grand slam tournaments. He has lost to Federer in three grand slam finals (Australia, US and Wimbledon) and once to Djokovic (Australia).
So is this a hurdle he cannot jump or has victory at the Olympics at Wimbledon given him both the impetus and, crucially, the belief to win at Flushing Meadows or Melbourne?
The straight-sets defeat of Federer in the gold medal match is undoubtedly a breakthrough for the 25-year-old Scot. He knows now that when the big match comes, he can prevail. He knows, too, that the changes to his game and personality have been franked by gold.
There has been a dramatic change in Murray since Ivan Lendl took over as his coach in January. Murray has gradually become calmer, more focused on court and, after reaching two grand slam finals this year, he showed composure and certainty in defeating Federer in the Olympic final.
Much of this can be ascribed to the simple reality that Murray is becoming more mature, but many feel that Lendl's influence has been telling.
Donald MacNaughton, the Scottish sports psychologist whose 12 Hidden Laws of Performance has become a best-seller, has acknowledged both the input of Lendl and the change in Murray's attitude.
He believes that Murray's defeat by Federer at the Wimbledon Championships was a defining moment. Lendl told his charge afterwards that he would never again play under such pressure. Murray thus walked out in the Olympic final free of any additional pressure.
"All athletes can only distinguish success from failure by experiencing both," said MacNaughton. "Great athletes hate losing but are not scared of losing and so develop 'a failure strategy', also known as a learning strategy, to use the lessons from defeats and integrate them into their game to improve."
MacNaughton, who works with top performers in Formula One, rugby league and football, added: "Young players who only experience success in the junior game are seldom the ones that are No.1 in the senior game as they have not learned how to deal with failure and come through it."
Lendl, of course, lost four grand slam finals before going on to win eight majors, and MacNaughton says this is more than useful to the Scot. "Lendl knows from experience that things change and that it is a matter of constant improvement," said MacNaughton.
He added: "Having a coach that can really appreciate how it feels to be in Andy's position is invaluable as this is real empathy."
One of MacNaughton's 12 laws insists that champions must embrace change and the psychologist has been impressed by the way Murray keeps trying to improve by using different training methods, refined diets and changing coaches. The employment of Lendl had its potential dangers in that the Czech is known as someone who can dictate and a coach, too, who would feel no need to bow to his client.
Yet the partnership has blossomed, with Murray showing he is willing to accept advice and to adapt both his game and his personality to adhere to the precepts preached by Lendl.
The Olympic gold was the most tangible sign that the partnership can work, with Murray defeating both Djokovic and Federer in straight sets in a tournament where he was the home favourite and playing under great expectations.
Another of MacNaughton's laws is the necessity of creating a "positive vibe", and the victory at Wimbledon marks a tick against this objective in the Murray notebook.
"Success breeds success through the positive feelings and dopamine/endorphines released with victory, which mean you feel good and stronger and this transfers into how you play on the court. The cliche is that winning becomes a habit but this is also true. We want to do more of what we enjoy, so we train more and our skills improve," he said.
Murray has been accused, with reason, of being obstinate and MacNaughton said: "I think the distinction is between persistence and thrawnness. Andy shows the Scottish fighting spirit, the Bruce and the spider scenario, he keeps going and has learned to start to let go of the thrawnness. This can best be described as: 'I will do this my way even if it hurts me'.
"His speech after the Wimbledon final defeat by Federer was one of authentic emotion and showed a softer side of him which has turned out to be a strength and I think it connected him to his fans in the lead-up to the Olympics."
But how important is that gold medal triumph for Murray's hopes of breaking new ground in grand slam tournaments?
"Murray will have always seen himself as a champion and the Olympic final can be the convincer that when he meets any of the top three in finals or semis he will have that memory that he can do it when it matters," said the psychologist.
"I think the Olympic gold is huge as it also connected him to the spirit of Team GB and that showed him he is not there alone. That will have added to his 'sporting soul' as we all like to be part of something bigger than ourselves which gives a renewed sense of purpose."
MacNaughton has a simple message for the Scot as he faces his latest major test.
"For the US Open, I would tell him to trust his skills and capabilities, not to overthink or get caught up in his head. Go back to that 'inner player', that one who won the Olympic gold. I would say: Yes, you will have to fight hard, but it is all there for you ..."
n The Champions edition of the 12 Hidden Laws of Performance is published by Headshrink Publications at £12.99
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