Tuesday, January 17, 2012

5 Thoughts on the Andy Murray-Ryan Harrison Tilt

One of the more highly anticipated first-rounders in Melbourne did not disappoint, as Andy Murray outclassed youngster Ryan Harrison on Hisense. Here are five quick thoughts on what the match might mean for both participants.

***Editor's Note: You can find my work at Tennisnow.com throughout the Australian Open. I'm posting 3-4 pieces a day there, so please feel free to stop by and check it out.

1. Harrison's going places

The 19-year-old Shreveport, La. native is now 0-10 against top ten opponents, but don't let the 0-for fool you -- Harrison can play. And we were made aware of that fact in the first set yesterday when the feisty Harrison not only took the set, but looked like a bonafide world-beater in the process. Harrison made 69% of his first serves, smacked 12 winners, and basically looked like the better player throughout the 51-minute first set. Granted, Murray has never been the fastest starter, but if Harrison can find a way to play whole matches against top players the way he played yesterday's first set, he'll be scoring wins against top foes sooner rather than later.

2. Murray's calmness -- it's almost eery

During ESPN's broadcast of the match Brad Gilbert lamented that he could never get a young Andy Murray to behave so well when he was in his box. Ah, but that was a long time ago, Brad, and probably more importantly, it was before "Mr. Lendl" stepped to the fore. Here's my question: Is Lendl really ushering in the halcyon days for Murray, and if so, what will it really have a dramatic effect on the Scot's results? Of all the great things that Andy Murray did yesterday against Ryan Harrison, the greatest was his newfound zen-like placidity. No punching racquets. No bratty epithets aimed at anyone who would listen. Just proper, constructive tennis.

3. Murray's backhand, a thing of beauty

Now that Murray has me focusing less on his outbursts I noticed last night that his backhand is sublime, with a capital S. Of all the two-handers on tour, I'd say that only Novak Djokovic is more effective with the shot. But nobody is as natural with it. Murray can spin it or drill it, he can hit it crosscourt or punch it down the line. He can lob it, punch it, rip it -- you name it. The guy is a virtuoso with the two-hander.

4. So then, can he win it?

We've seen how much of a difference Lendl can make on Andy Murray's comportment, but what can he do for his nerves? Furthermore, is there anything he can do for Murray tactically when it comes to facing a merciless, en fuego player like Novak Djokovic? Murray's three previous trips to Grand Slam finals ought to have numbed him to the nerve experience a bit, so shying to the occasion probably won't be as much of a factor as it once was. As far as cultivating an effective strategy to deal with Djokovic, you can bet that Lendl is racking his brain for ideas every waking hour. It may not make the difference, but even the hope that there is somebody in his box that can make a difference could function as a potent placebo for Murray.

5. Is Murray's serve good enough?

Those of you who are kind enough to read this blog know that I'm very skeptical about Andy Murray's ability to deliver world-class serving on a consistent basis. I've written about it often. And honestly, as high as I am on Murray at the moment, my skepticism about the serve remains. His 54% first serve percentage yesterday does not inspire much confidence, but I do like the fact that he won 60% of his second serve points. Those numbers are way above his average. If he can keep that up, it will make his low first serve percentage a lot easier to stomach. The simple question is: Can he keep it up?

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