Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

Has Andy Murray Regressed?

Three years ago, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal met in the semifinals of the US Open for the first time. Nadal was scared, and he had reason to be as the Scot dispatched of him in straight sets. Many believed it to be Murray’s ‘coming out party’ to start challenging for and winning slams. After all, he was by far etter than Nadal on hardcourts, at least on par with his contemporary Novak Djokovic and had a good. Right?

Three years later, and it hasn’t quite gone to plan. Nadal has improved immeasurably on hardcourts, Djokovic and Murray aren’t even comparable these days and at least Federer’s tennis is certainly on-par with the other two. And Murray? Murray seems almost to be in tennis limbo. This year he has recorded the best slam year of his career and he is far better than almost every player below him. However, in those four slams and 21 match wins, he has only one top 10 win to show for it and the gap between him and the big 3 - both mentally and gamewise - is wide, and steadily widening.

What has forever baffled me about Murray is that he talks so much about his fitness - putting on weight, losing it, putting it back on, changing his diet - and yet every single time he goes up against Nadal he doesn’t even attempt to put that fitness to the test, instead playing a risky uber-aggressive style of tennis aimed at shortening the points. Even after his loss to Nadal, a match which didn’t appear to take much physical toll on him at all, he spoke about going off and working hard to improve his fitness in order to be better equipped the nest time he play. But why? It makes no sense. And when Mark Petchey did suggest ways to improve his game, Murray became visibly annoyed and finished the interview answering with disinterested, monotonous answers.

The explosive style he did try against Nadal, for him, is not sustainable for so many reasons. Firstly, because his forehand is so awful (relative to the rest of his game), and so is his focus and mental strength. Playing that brand of tennis, not only must you have to have conviction and focus throughout the whole match, but you need to understand that you will inevitably make some errors while playing such risky tennis. But when he is mentally (and sometimes physically) beating himself up after every point, it just doesn’t work. Moreover, you just can’t go 5 matches playing uber-defensive tennis and then come up against a 10-time slam champion and attempt to execute a completely different style of play. It just doesn’t work.

One of the biggest talking points of Andy Murray in recent times has been his mental strength and attitude. He has become notorious for his mid-match running commentary - the expletives, the anger, the snark and sarcasm. It can often be funny and many believe it to be endearing, but it’s still a big issue. It’s the type of thing you see in under 14/16 junior events until the players get older and realise how stupid they sound and how much kick a player gets out of seeing them torture themselves. Andy is now 24 years old, the fourth-best tennis player on the planet and yet he still does it day in, day out. At one point they showed an aerial view from above the stadium and while towelling off, Rafa was just staring straight down the other end as Murray swore at and berated himself. Even if he was losing and playing badly, it must give Rafa so much confidence and comfort to see his opponent always so on-edge mentally.

So where does he go from here? Novak has shown that it is possible to completely turn your career around in a small space of time. But Djokovic has also shown that he is willing to take on board criticism, understand and improve the problematic parts of both his game and, well, simply be positive. Murray has done none of the above. Sure, many often say that it’s just part of his personality and something he can’t change or be blamed for, but it could be that these character traits do end up holding him back from ever winning a slam.

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4 Responses to Has Andy Murray Regressed?

  1. Sheila September 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I thought one day that Novak was a lost case… and fortunately I was wrong.
    I’ll keep believing in Andy because he’s British (and I like British people lol) and he’s so talented.
    Maybe facing Rafa all the time isn’t a good thing for him cause Rafa is mentally the opposite of Andy. The more Rafa doesn’t express himself the more Andy feels like talking and talking. It’s like Andy wants everyone to hear it “I suck and I know it. You don’t need to tell me!!! I’m already punishing myself!”
    I don’t see the “all attack” strategy as bad, but the thing is, as you said, he doesn’t forgive himself for making mistakes. He thinks he’s the only person on the planet that makes an error in a moment of pressure. And he is not. Novak, Roger and Rafa do it sometimes as well, but they can move on from it. I hope Andy will be able to do that one day.

  2. John Doolittle September 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    He’s not gonna beat Rafa by playing very defensive; thats not the problem. But I do agree with you that the mental aspect is a huge problem. None of the other players from the Big 4 act that way…

  3. Soujanya (@soujtennis) September 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Just a note, Murray actually beat Rafa in the 2008 semis in four sets: 6–2, 7–6(5) 4–6, 6–4.

  4. peRFect Tennis September 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Nobody hates Andy Murray more than he hates himself. That’s why he will continue to be slamless.

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