Federer versus Murray, and why I might become a behaviorist

August 16, 2014

Andy Murray loses to Roger Federer in the quarter finals of Cincinnati. Your LWD correspondent considers becoming a behavioural psychologist

Just another tennis match, [16th August, 2014] and no big deal. Except Roger Federer has just had praise heaped on him on the event of his thirty-third birthday with the implication he is nearing the end of his illustrious career. He has drifted down to World number six. Andy Murray after surgery has slumped to World number ten, and is slightly under-cooked for the US Open in a week’s time.

At the start of the match, one TV pundit favoured Murray slightly to win it. Another expert favoured Federer slightly. What happened was dramatic and unexpected.

Early exchanges

Early exchanges show Federer to be the more confident player, and he breaks to lead 3-2 and serve. Then he wins another break to take the first set. One of the worse sets Murray has played against Federer.

Second set

Federer’s play dips and Murray breaks at 2-1. Then again to 4-1. Murray strategy to Federer’s backhand side is winning. Federer’s play weaker than in the first set.

Murray drops serve and droops

Murray drops serve with weak play to 4-2. Then drops another serve with even weaker play. If I believed in momentum I would say Federer had gained it.

Murray’s play continues in increasingly predictable weak fashion, and he loses miserably.

‘Between Andy’s ears’

Peter Fleming, one of the better tennis commentators, observed for B Sky B that ‘something was going on between Andy’s ears’ , a euphemism I took to mean that Andy’s mental state was wrong. But on the previous day Andy had shown enormous concentration in defeating big serving Isner. There was no mental fragility on show.

Why I might become a behaviourist

I did not disagree with Fleming’s remark. Except it left me feeling I might give up searching for explanations of human behaviour that involved unobservable processes such as mental fragility. That is the central precept of behavioral psychology,

Fight may still be OK

If I took up with behaviourism, then I could stop worrying about mental events or processes such motivation, commitment, maybe even fright, but fight might just about be OK because like flight it is just about observable.

And, as a behaviorist I would have to abandon worry as an epiphenomenon.

Goodbye to creativity

So it’s goodbye creativity, hello to the world of stimulus and response.

My observations on this brave new world may be reported in a future blog post.


August 22nd:  The Murray conundrum continues in the first round of the US open. Against a veteran opponent Robin Hasse, Murray is tentative from start and gets worse.  The serve is tentative. The play a mix of cautious and over aggressive.  Still struggles on, but wins tie break to go two sets up.

Murray then increasingly physically distressed, cramps mightily, appears to be about to default.  Hasse wins 

set, then also flags. Murray limps home after a wildly swinging fourth set.

I depart from neo-behaviorism and reach speculative view that AM is in same dire form as some English and Indian cricketers I have watched recently.  Cramp is part of a more complex set of actors.  So is first round nerves.

Tennis watch: Andy Murray development update

August 16, 2010
Andy Murray of Great Britain wins the Cincinna...

Image via Wikipedia

Andy Murray’s progress is followed in the build-up the US Open 2010. The notes have been prepared for students of leadership, coaching, and personal development.

Sunday August 21st

Murray v. upbeat about Cinci defeat. Thinks conditioning gained was pefect for Open. The Guardian was not as convinced

Friday August 19th

Murray’s run at Cincinnati ends in quarters. Loses tight game to Mardy Fish. Murray’s plea for a match outside the heat of the day is turned down. He is clearly worried by the heat. Hits physiological wall after winning tight first set tie break. My medical advisor says quitting court for cool comfort break may have made things worse as he needed medical attention soon afterwards for dizziness. Also reported assorted twinges. Possibly good break for a couple of weeks before Open. But will we need a Murray Knee Watch next?

Thursday August 18th

Murray sneaks past Gulbis in 3rd set tie break. Looked fatigued in heat (and slumped in chair afterwards). Win in doubt as Gulbis big-hits way to first set and then until final breaker. Next up in quarter finals Mardy Fish who beat Murray in last two match ups.

Wednesday August 18th

And so on to Cincinnati masters event.  Bye in first round. Second round M played a bit hot and a bit flat looking troubled for a while when Chardis attacked rather wildly.  Said he found surface difficult and needed practice later in the day before round three against tougher Gulbis.

Monday August 16th 2010

Andy Murray had defended his title at Toronto by beating Nadal in the semis and Federer in the final. At the start of the tournament his play and his longer-term plans seemed in disarray. He retains the tag as the strongest player around who hasn’t won an open championship. Admired aspects of his play include considerable natural talent, wide range of responses to opponents shots, and good fitness level (despite natural physical weakness of the knees, and earlier suspect fitness levels).

Earlier in the week I suggested that progress should be judged against longer-term patterns of on and off court behaviour. Murray’s play reveals high-level of performance competence repeatedly mixed with lapses of concentration. Losses to more aggressive powerful players have been too frequent. In play, a pattern of scrambling brilliance has sometimes failed to compensate for weaknesses in serve and a preference for counter-punching. Off-court he has had uneasy relationships with coaches. He recently parted company with his coach (but retained the other members of ‘Team Murray’. At 23, he has reduced displays of truculence on court.

My recent comments were that under stress, older patterns of action come to the surface. In tterms of a well-known personal development adage, “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Under stress Murray may revert to a rather timid style that will cost him important matches.


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