Andy Murray is 11-1 in the last two years at the Australian Open, but he'll only be as good as his last match in Melbourne.
Will a year make a big difference?
Andy Murray's last Grand Slam final left us all curious about his long-term ceiling. Is Murray merely pausing at a temporary plateau, or is he doomed to second place purgatory forever?
What else have you got, Mr. Murray? Isn't that what we really want to know? It is the sad truth about how we measure great players. We fixate on the measuring sticks. When you lose six straight sets in your only two Grand Slam finals, we tend to assume that you're never going to measure up.
We're looking for proof of transcendence, not rumors.
We're looking for a declaration, not a sob story.
When Murray was brushed aside in last year's Australian Open final by Roger Federer, the disappointment was palpable. When he said goodbye to the crowd with a sappy speech, the indelible image of a deflated man was etched upon our memory.
It remains to this day.
We place it on a scale, alongside his imperious denial of upstart Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarters last night, and we try to decipher which feat we should assign more value to.
It is guesswork, at best.
The truth of the matter is that even Murray doesn't know what will happen. But he does know that he's been here before. He can act like he belongs now, because he's proven that he does. "I feel just way more experienced," said Murray. "I know how to deal with playing deep into Grand Slam events now, how to get prepared for them mentally and physically."
There is still plenty of reason for optimism in the Murray camp, and Murray himself attests to that. "You just try to become more consistent, have less weaknesses," he says. "I think this year I'm a little bit more solid."
But will being more solid translate to being more solid under pressure? For Murray, who is frequently dominant in the early rounds of Slams, the question remains, can he come good on judgment day?
One thing is for certain: the more chances he gets, the better his odds will be of breaking the British curse.
Consider the fact that Murray has a 12-12 record against the other three semifinalists, and you realize that his chances are far better than a long shot.
Let the hype machines roll!
Why shouldn't we hype him? He's twice come within a match of breaking the infamous 75-year-old British Grand Slam slump. He's got a huge presence, and he can run like the devil. He embodies the warrior spirit, and he plays the game with an alluring combo of panache and grit.
Murray's the real deal for sure. But he'd be a heck of a lot realer if he could tackle the ultimate hurdle. History tends to forget players who almost break records. Murray, sports historian that he is, surely recognizes this.
Thus he surely recognizes that drawing blanks in another final will only make him more of a magnet for criticism.
Some players don't need the lesson, and others need to learn it the hard way. Murray's had the chance to learn, twice. Maybe now he's hardened.
That he hasn't arrived a the pinnacle of the sport doesn't detract from Murray's efforts. That we've ordained him before he was worthy on several occasions shouldn't matter either.
What should matter is only what's about to happen this weekend. Murray might want to forget about his previous finals disappointments, but he shouldn't forget the fact that he is here for a reason. His six Masters titles in three years are proof that he's got the tools, now he needs to put them to use on the grandest stage.
For Murray, there is a clear line drawn in the sand. His future is a yes or no question. With each passing win, the odds for a resounding yes are improving. If he can get by Ferrer on Friday, he'll take his third shot at rewriting the history of British tennis.
Destiny will take care of the rest for Andy Murray.
In the meantime, run tape, click cameras, and let the hype machine roll.