Andy Murray could not have picked a worse time to suffer an unprecedented dip in form that has seen him fall to seven defeats already this season.
After years of toil he has finally emerged from Novak Djokovic’s shadow and established himself as world number one. Now should be the time for him to bolster his trophy cabinet while the Serb struggles.
But with the French Open imminent and Wimbledon looming large on the horizon, Murray has succumbed to a slump of his own, which will cause serious consternation among his fans.
Last year was the finest in Murray’s career. The highlight came when he claimed a second Wimbledon title by beating Djokovic in front of a rapturous crowd on Centre Court. It ended a long run of final defeats against Djokovic, and Murray surged past him in the world rankings on the back of a 28-match winning run. At 29, he finally earned that elusive world number one status, becoming the first British man to do so since singles records began.
He also became the first male player to win a Grand Slam, Olympic gold, a Masters 1000 event and the ATP World Tour finals in a single season.
But instead of resting after that gruelling season, Murray pushed himself hard during the winter training block and emerged a fatigued shadow of his former self for the new season.
When Djokovic crashed out of the Australian Open at the hands of world number 117 Denis Istomin in just the second round, it paved the way for Murray to win the tournament for the first time.
Djokovic had beaten him in the 2016 final and had seemed the only man capable of stopping him. But it was not to be: Murray made it only as far as the round of 16, where he lost in four sets to the promising but erratic Mischa Zverev.
Murray’s conqueror was dispatched with ease by Roger Federer in the next round, and the Swiss went on to beat Rafael Nadal in an unlikely final that felt like a throwback to the previous decade.
Things have since gone from bad to worse for Murray. He should be at his peak and securing his legacy with stacks of silverware, but he has already lost seven times this season in 23 matches, compared to just nine defeats in 87 matches last year.
An elbow tear has prevented him from working on his serve, and a notable problem has been the lack of pace on his second serve. He has also suffered from shingles and flu. A rest would help, but it is not in his nature. Instead he will work with coach Ivan Lendl and attempt to turn his season around.
He has always struggled on clay and that could explain his recent woes. Up until 2015 he had an awful record, but thrived in 2015 and 2016, and has reverted to type so far in 2017.
As such, he is not given much of a chance in the French Open. Sun Bets has him at 10/1 to win it, which makes him the fifth favourite, behind Nadal, Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem. Nadal is a clay court specialist and he has thrived since returning from the sort of rest that could benefit Murray, so he has been made odds-on favourite.
It is at Wimbledon then that Murray has the best chance of turning his season around. If he does not, Djokovic could overtake him once more in the world rankings, but the signs are promising.
The statistics show grass is his strongest surface: in his career he has won 86% of matches on grass, compared to 79% on hard courts and just 69% on clay.
He is a great counter puncher and his supreme anticipation makes his game perfect for the low bounces and fast pace that grass brings, while his weak second serve is less of an issue on this surface.
The Wimbledon 2017 odds at Sun Bets show that Murray is the narrow favourite to win Wimbledon.
At 2/1 he is just ahead of Djokovic (5/2) in the betting and the Serb, despite battling his own demons, will be the greatest threat to Murray’s chances. Federer excels at Wimbledon and is the 7/2 third favourite, but he is now 35 and should be no match for a player with Murray’s athleticism.
Beyond that there is not too much danger in the field. Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios are fourth and fifth favourites respectively, and Murray has dominated the pair of them in recent head-to-heads. Djokovic is an obstacle, but Murray’s greatest enemy is himself.
If he can regain his confidence and rediscover his athletic prowess, nobody can stop him, and Wimbledon 2017 could be his springboard for more success.