By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Andy Murray's breakthrough win at the U.S. Open was reward for having the courage to leave his comfort zone, but the player he beat in the final still has the edge over the Briton, according to seven-times grand slam champion Mats Wilander.
Wilander said little could be read into Murray's five-set victory over Novak Djokovic at a gusty Flushing Meadows last September, given the Serb appeared to have had a bad day in the office.
"Djokovic does have the edge," Swede Wilander told Reuters at Melbourne Park, where both 25-year-old players have reached the fourth round but cannot meet until the final.
"He literally will have an edge for a long time but that can be changed.
"It's really hard to say what happened at the U.S. Open.
"Novak looked like he was thinking, 'It's windy, I'm really not enjoying this as much as I should, I'm not playing that well, it's Monday.'
"I'm not saying he did this intentionally, but there are matches in your career where you can't cope with how you feel.
"I don't know how big a deal that match was... I don't think this final means anything on paper except that Murray has one grand slam."
Things were still looking up for Murray, however, having taken on eight-times grand slam winner Ivan Lendl as coach, the 48-year-old Swede said.
While Lendl had not necessarily secured Murray's maiden grand slam, it had certainly sped up the process.
"I think he's getting better all the time and if he's not, then Ivan Lendl has better things to do, which is play 36 holes instead of 18," he said of the former world number one and golf enthusiast.
"I think it's very commendable by Andy Murray to take on the winningest tennis player of all time, because he sure as hell can't blame him and that takes a lot of guts."
Lendl's voice had added a tone of authority that may have been lacking from 'Team Murray', which included his mother and British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray, Wilander added.
"He could have won a major without Ivan, I'm sure it would have been possible, but he looks pretty grown up about his whole life in a way.
"With his mum being that close involved with his tennis, there's a lot of 'yes' there, a lot of 'oh you are good, you are great', which is all very good because a safety net is very safe and that's great, but it takes more of that sometimes."
Wilander won three Australian Open titles, two back-to-back in 1983-84 when the tournament was held on grass courts at Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in Melbourne's leafy eastern suburbs, before taking a third in 1988 when it shifted to Flinders Park, rebranded Melbourne Park in 1997.
He said 17-times grand slam champion Roger Federer could not be discounted to win a fifth title this year, but was gunning for Murray and defending champion Djokovic to slug it out on a 35 degree Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) day in the men's final.
"A beautiful day, no wind - let's hammer it out, boys. Let's see who is the fittest, strongest, the quickest, the best player in the world at this moment, that would be fun, that would be a great match that we would all look forward to," said Wilander.
Murray, who next plays Frenchman Gilles Simon, has yet to drop a set in his run to the last 16 but has not played his best tennis.
He labored at times in his third-round match against his practice partner Ricardas Berankis, a Lithuanian qualifier, and berated himself during a second-set slump.
Wilander said Murray was yet to develop Djokovic's formidable concentration over multiple sets in grand slams and could ill afford to float in and out of a match against the Serb.
"Murray is more of a two-set player and then he goes out. Then he comes back in 20 minutes and usually in five-set matches he's still in the game, but he can't do that against the top players," he added.
"Federer and Novak are more three-set players. That's why they are so good, they are telling everybody that's watching them play - 'I am most probably the greatest tennis player of all time' - and that confidence doesn't come easily to somebody who is as much of a problem solver as Andy Murray is."
(Editing by John O'Brien)