EXCLUSIVE: Castle says Murray can still be game's top player despite defeat to Djokovic

Andy Murray's four-set defeat in the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic has only served to delay the Scot's likely ascent up the ranks to world No.1.

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Castle gave credit to the imperious Djokovic
Castle gave credit to the imperious Djokovic

That's the view of Andrew Castle, the former British No.1, who watched with interest in his role as a TV pundit as Murray tried in vain to become the first man in the Open era to win the next Slam after having won his debut major.

Had Murray won yesterday, in his third consecutive Grand Slam final appearance, he would have been in with a chance of usurping Djokovic's preeminent status by the time Wimbledon came around.

But despite claiming the first set on a tie-break, Murray was clearly hampered by blisters on his left foot, which required medical treatment, and a hamstring strain.

Djokovic's win, though, gave him a sixth Grand Slam and a measure of revenge for the US Open final, in which Murray defeated him in five epic sets last September.

Castle has no doubt that the two rivals are now the main players on the circuit, with Murray having at times dominated Roger Federer in the semi-finals in Melbourne and Rafael Nadal yet to make his comeback from serious injury.

What's more, he reckons the Scot is in with a realistic chance of eventually loosening Djokovic's grip on the top ranking.

The Englishman, who was lead commentator for the BBC's coverage of the final, said: "I think what the Australian Open has proved beyond all doubt is that Djokovic and Murray are now the pre-eminent duo in the men's game right now.

"And, in my opinion, Andy Murray is still closing in on that No.1 slot.

"If he had won in Melbourne I would have expected him to have a very good chance of making it to the top of the pile by Wimbledon.

"Although it will take longer now I still think he can achieve that. Andy is now almost at the absolute peak of his powers and he will have maybe around five years there. This is his time.

"I think Andy put in a monumental effort in the final and he was so close at the start of the second set – after he had taken the first – to getting the breakthrough.

"If he'd managed that in Djokovic's first service game of the second set I think he would have done it. But you can take nothing away from Djokovic, he deserves enormous credit for this victory."

Castle was at pains to point out that the Serb's typically masterful display ought to be seen as the reason for the win, rather than Murray's injury woes – and he reckons the Scot would be the first to agree.

He explained: "I don't see Andy using the blisters or the hamstring as an excuse.

"Listen, this is tennis at the top level and you saw how unbelievably tough it was to win a point between these two.

"But I think the blisters issue is a legacy of the five-set semi- final with Federer because Andy had to put so much into that match to win it. But Andy won't use it as an excuse and neither should we. Djokovic was just too good on the day."

Previous defeats in Grand Slam finals had led to months of struggles for Murray, but Castle reckons the presence of coach Ivan Lendl will ensure he handles this defeat positively, as he did under the Czech's tutelage when he bounced back from losing last year's Wimbledon heartache to win in New York.

And, looking ahead to this year's other major tournaments, he also believes the Scot has sufficiently matured to prevent any sort of tailspin after yesterday's bitter disappointment.

He said: "I don't see Andy suffering from a dip because of this defeat. Knowing Ivan Lendl well there is just no way that will happen. But I also think you have to give Andy tremendous credit for the way he has matured.

"He showed last summer when he lost the Wimbledon final to Federer that he has now got the maturity to deal with even the most harrowing of losses and I think there were so many positives to take from this match that Andy can build on.

"He know's he is so close now to achieving his goals and there is no doubt there will be more Slam success coming his way this year.

Castle added: "Andy has achieved so much and he is now just so consistent in the slams and to have made the last three finals in the majors underlines that.

"But the best is still to come from him – I am convinced of that."

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