When Federer lost to Murray at Dubai this week he said Murray had not developed much in two years. When Murray then lost to Davydenko, Federer’s harsh judgement seemed quickly justified
The remarks made by Roger Federer about Andy Murray were repeated by the media as the two prepared to contest The US Open final six months later.
Fededer’s post match comments on losing to Andy Murray at Dubai caused a bit of a stir. He made his views clear. Murray had not developed a great deal despite his climb up the rankings in the last two years. Was the great man in denial after a rare loss?
Since his win over Federer, Murray’s performances seem to back up the Fed’s remarks. In the second round there was a scratchy performance against Fernando Verdasco which he could easily have lost. In the third round there was another lack-lustre effort against Davydenko in which the young Scot was comprehensively bullied off the court.
In both these efforts the most obvious characteristic of Murray’s play was a style that in essentials has characterised his play since his days as a promising junior. The style has often been described as that of a counter-puncher. He has always been a counter-puncher. It has survived changes in coach. But even after a time with Brad Gilbert he has remained a counter-puncher, albeit a much improved one.
It’s largely a matter of comfort zone. Under stress we all retreat to the most habitual responses to the pressure of the situation. Champions lose less, which is what we mean when we talk of their mental toughness. But under pressure we all now pretty much how an Andy Roddick will fight his way out of trouble. It will be different to how an Andre Agassi used to do it, or a Johnnie Mac. Murray’s way has been to stick even further to defense, reducing advances to the net even further.
Grooving and flexibility
Every player knows the importance of being grooved. How getting feet and body lined up just right to deal with as many different shots as possible. But grooving can come at a cost to flexibility.
Murray is still in search of grooving his now formidable serve. He does not bottle it on critical points. But it still needs more grooving, more consistency. He is more than flexible enough at a tactical level. Maybe too willing to try the low probability option that has commentators gasping in admiration when it works, and frustration when it doesn’t.
So the master has got a point about the apprentice. In some very important ways Murray has a signature to his play. Too often still he does not find the flexibility to depart from his comfort zone. That is sometimes concealed by brilliant improvisation that goes with the basic style.
Federer also said that maybe Murray will surprise us all over the next ten years. Maybe by winning slams. Let’s hope so.