Friday, August 21, 2009

August 21, Is Muzz a Pusher?

Greetings Tennis Junkies,

Andy Murray's quarterfinal squeaker over lucky loser Julian Benneteau was an interesting match. Was it a good match? Was it a bad match? I'd say it was both.



After Murray double faulted the first set to Benneteau by missing the T by about 10 feet, there was no doubt that Muzz had to come back and win the match. The newly anointed No. 2 simply couldn't afford to head into the U.S. Open on the heels of a disgraceful loss to a player that by all accounts makes his living a few rungs down the ladder of ATP success from Murray.

When Murray was broken in the 2nd game of the 2nd set things seemed to be going from bad to worse for the man who won his first masters shield in Cincinnati last year and used the victory as a springboard to a U.S. Open final appearance.

But Murray remained at least partially calm, even as he did seem a bit perturbed by his lacklustre play. And when an opportunity to break came about Murray did what he did best - he played it safe and ran his ass off, engaging Benneteau in what must have been an infuriating 56 stroke rally (count 'em above), which finally ended with an exhausted Benneteau shanking an overhead smash wide of the tram lines, giving Murray the break, the psychological edge, and for all intents and purposes the match.

It was such classic Murray. Love it or hate it, the guy knows how to disassemble his opponent on court. The young Scot was playing horribly for the first hour, and yet still he was buoyed by the belief that he was the stronger animal. I'm not sure how this match would have played out if it had been one of the ATP's venerable sluggers (Gonzo or Roddick?) that Murray was up against, but I'm not sure that it matters either, because Murray seems to always bring something different to each match.

Today it was a steady diet of slice, topspin, lobs, and tantalizing retrieving. And the fact that it was barely enough to get by Benneteau is belittled once again by the fact that it was good enough to win.

Murray isn't always the prettiest dancer at the ball, but he quite often finds a way to snag the most desirable debutante, in spite of all the drooling muscle bound competition that lies in wait. He's the guy that the other smoother and more perfectly sculpted swingers watch hold trophies over his head. He's the guy that climbs steadily up the rankings while they look on in envy. He may not be the prettiest player, or the most powerful, but I'm quite sure that he is the smartest. He knows his enemy and he kills him slowly, and quite often with kindness.

Call him a pusher. Many of you will. And you may be right at times, but there is a lot more to Andy Murray's game than just pushing. The kid can drill the two-hander, and he can angle the passing shot like nobody else in the game. He does seem to be a little enamored with the fact that he can beat most people by feeding them balls and running down their shots until they finally wilt, either from fatigue or frustration.

It is a little concerning to see him do this on a consistent basis, because inevitably someone is going to zone in on that hittable ball and crush it for three straight sets.

Will he be content to let that happen, or will the pusher push back and defend his No. 2 ranking at the U.S. Open? What he's done with what he has is remarkable, but is what he has enough to get him over the hump when the competition is going for broke in a Slam?

I think the jury is still out on Murray. He's walking the fine line between being crafty and being unnecessarily passive. If he keeps leaning in the direction of being passive he might have a rude awakening coming to him in New York. If he leans in the other direction he might have a title.

2 comments:

  1. Hi, The Fan Child. Great article, and a very interesting one for me especially because I wrote about this same exact match on my blog, at http://www.tennis-brain.com and I found it an incredibly frustrating match to watch. I've also made reference to the same problem in his match against Del Potro last week. I definitely appreciate Murray's court craft, but I really think he makes these early round matches far more difficult for himself than they need to be. It seems unnecessary to be exchanging these long probing rallies with opponents that can be beaten without their games being thrown off - just put them away!!

    In any case, I don't think he utilises one of his greatest strengths the most, the ability to change pace. He's also pretty good at changing directions, especially with the backhand down-the-line. He constructs his points well enough to create openings for himself, or at least putting his opponents in uncomfortable positions, like having to resort to a slice or moving forwards that he can take advantage of that better, but instead he'd rather drive his opponents crazy in the long run. Who knows, maybe that has a better long term effect in a match (aside from when he's playing against someone good), the way he's playing now. So far, history seems to suggest that it's more possible for him to run against an in-form player during a Slam because it's easier to get confident in a two week event in a large scale event where players get more fired up.

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  2. I find Murray so much more entertaining when he plays against a player that lets him use his counterpunching abilities, for example his match against Stepanek. It's the perfect match-up for him because all he has to do is react to what Stepanek is throwing at him, and hit great passing shots and we all know Murray can hit some amazing shots on the dead run when he's stretched out wide and has no choice other than to try to hit the winner.

    It's not the same match-up, but he's also forced to be aggressive when he plays against Nadal. Nadal is such a special player that he almost forces everyone to play out of their comfort zones - anyone that plays against them knows they have to play aggressive, it's as simple as that. I just knew that Djokovic was going to come out and rediscover that aggressive free-hitting form that we don't really see from him any other time. It makes it so much easier knowing that there's only one way they can play, and the same goes for Murray when he plays Nadal.

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