Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Hasn't Murray Won a Slam? It's The Serve, Stupid.

We call it the "Big 4" in men's tennis, but three of the four have broken through and won multiple Grand Slams (a whopping 30 between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic combined) while Andy Murray is still coveting that elusive maiden Slam title.

So, why do we even bother counting Andy Murray among the game's elite when the cold hard facts say he is not deserving? Is it an expression of sympathy for the tortured artist who wears his heart on his sleeve, a mere bone thrown to give forlorn British tennis fans something to believe in, or is it justified?

Well, the answer is simple, and yet, it's complicated too: Between the lines, Murray does possess an elite game. He's a physical specimen, he's tactically brilliant, and his shotmaking abilities are on par with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. But between the ears Murray can become discombobulated at times. Oh, let's be honest, he can fall into a bottomless pit of agony and despair and not come out until the match is over. His last Grand Slam final was a clear indication that Murray is not yet capable of adequately dealing with the pressure of a Grand Slam final.

It's a shame, because Murray's clearly a highly intelligent player, and he no doubt puts great emphasis in his mental preparation on the importance of poise in such situations, but he's yet to conquer his nerves under the brightest spotlight in tennis.

Can he? Sure.

Will he? I don't know.

But before you think that nerves are the only thing keeping Murray from being the next Novak Djokovic -- a player who rises up and takes over men's tennis for an extended period of time --let's look at what I believe to be the real reason that Murray hasn't gotten over the hump yet: his serve.

For years the rap on Murray has been his lack of aggression. Pundits have consistently blamed Murray's failures on the fact that his predilection for cat-and-mouse rallies and his lack of a Berdych or Soderling-like forehand is what's hurting him. I don't agree. I think that Murray was born to be the type of player that he has become, and he should embrace it and stick to it. Can Murray focus some of his effort on being more aggressive when the situation calls for it? Yes. Does he need a massive philosophical overhaul? No.

What Murray does need is to serve better. You don't believe me? Check the stats.

Murray's 46th on the ATP Tour at winning 2nd serve points. If that isn't a recipe for disaster when you are regularly trying to beat two of the best returners in the history of the sport, I don't know what is. Nadal is 1, Federer is 2, and Djokovic is 3, in case you were curious.

Murray's 41st on the ATP Tour in first serve percentage, and he's 23rd in percentage of service games won. Federer is 2, Djokovic is 5, and Nadal is 15.

Murray can strengthen his mind all he wants and become as aggressive as everyone else wants him to be, but until he starts getting better results from his serve, he'll only be able to win a Grand Slam title if he plays perfect tennis in every other facet of the game.

If I was Murray's coach I'd tell him to leave his game the way it is. He's an amazing tactical player, and he gains confidence from being able to execute his unique brand of tennis against the best players in the world. That's who he is and he's damn good at it, so why should he change?

But the serve needs to get better. He needs to make more first serves, he needs to deal with his service games better emotionally, and he needs to construct better points around his second serve.

Until he can serve like the other members of the "Big 4" I think the monumental task of becoming the first British player to win a Grand Slam since 1936 will continue to be too much for him.

2011 First Serve Percentage:

Murray: 59%, 41st
Nadal: 68%, 6th
Djokovic: 65%, 11th
Federer: 64%, 14th

2011 2nd Serve Points Won:

Murray: 50%, 46th
Nadal: 57%, 1st
Federer: 57%, 2nd
Djokovic: 56%, 3rd

2011 Service Games Won:

Murray: 81%, 23rd
Federer: 89%, 2nd
Djokovic: 87%, 5th
Nadal: 84%, 15th

1 comment:

  1. Good analysis. Would love to see him embrace the advice. As for his nerves, I think he will conquer them, at least once. But, that's all he needs to fulfil the British tennis prophecy; something else he buys into a little too much, despite what he says.


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