Murray win shows psychological power of winning streak

Posted at 08/06/12 5:08 PM

LONDON - The tale of British tennis player Andy Murray's Wimbledon despair turning to Olympic joy shows the sheer power of the psychological advantage that a supportive home crowd and a gold medal-winning streak by your national team can give.

Exactly four weeks after Switzerland's Roger Federer beat him and reduced him to tears on the same Wimbledon centre court, Murray hit back during the London 2012 Olympics on Sunday with a thrashing 6-2 6-1 6-4 win over the world number one.

There is little doubt the roar of a partisan crowd and spirit of success brought on by Britain's Olympic gold-medal winning streak played their part in the 25-year-old Scot's victory.

"The crowd really willed him on. They pumped him up," U.S. tennis champion and commentator John McEnroe said.

Murray said he was inspired by the success of fellow British athletes Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford who all won gold medals at the London Olympic athletics stadium on Saturday on one of the most successful nights in British athletic history.

"I watched the athletics last night," Murray said. "The momentum the team's had over the last week has been so good."

From fear of success to spirit of success

Andrew Lane, a professor of sports psychology at Wolverhampton University, pointed to Britain's new found Olympic "spirit of success" as crucial.

"The landslide of medals keeps coming, and Andy Murray has seen the success of rowers, the cyclists and the athletics champions," he said. "At the moment, at a time when it really matters, British athletes are performing beyond expectations - and he wanted to repeat that."

Apart from a slight wobble in the first game of the match Murray played with great confidence, producing a display of power, precision and touch that not even Federer could match.

From the moment he moved 4-2 ahead in the first set, Murray barely let Federer back in, rattling off nine games in a row to seize complete control of the final.

"He thrashed him, and looked like he was enjoying it. He was perfectly in control," Lane said of Murray.

Nick Maguire, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology at Britain's University of Southampton, said two possible mechanisms could account for Murray's winning boost.

"The first is physiological. The noise generated by a large crowd in your support may promote excitement and adrenaline production," Maguire explained.

"The second is more cognitive. When we feel excited, successful images and verbal narratives are much more salient and easily retrieved. So knowing that the noise is for you, and that other athletes are being successful may promote images and thoughts of your own success," he added.

And importantly, despite facing an opponent few thought he would beat, Murray didn't panic when victory was in sight.

"Fear of success can be quite daunting," said Lane. "When you're up against those top players, it can be very difficult when you get close to the finishing line to actually convert it into a win."

Antoinette Minniti, a lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at Nottingham Trent University, says the roar of the crowd can be a big boost, but only for athletes who perceive it as positive.

Murray could well have interpreted the screams of "Andy, Andy, Andy" as enormous and potentially debilitating pressure, but instead he used them to sweep him to victory.

Lane said the Olympic gold rush was already developing into a nationwide mental shift.

"We've got into a collective mindset where it's okay to win," he said. "And that's certainly not always the case with the British." (Editing by Peter Millership and Ed Osmond)

View more