Andy Murray: Why The Critics Have It Wrong
Andy Murray stands at 0 for 2 in Grand Slam Finals. Despite the fact that he has had greater all round success at Masters series events than fellow players Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, the pressure that surronds the top five seems to sit squarely on Murray’s shoulders. He is the only member of the top five not to have won a Slam. He currently sits at three in the world, above the six time Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, and US Open 2009 Champion, del Potro. Despite Murray’s achievements at Masters levels, his finals placing in Slams, and his age of only 22, Murray currently faces swarms of criticism as people try to figure out what he can do to win one of the big ones.
The current theory behind Murray’s failure to capitilise on his two Slam opportunities is that he plays too defensively in the big matches. His fatigue and inexperience were blamed for his failure to capture the 2008 US Open, but his 2009 Australian Open runner up place is blamed on Murray reverting back into his shell. Critics of Andy Murray, who usually are the most desperate for him to win a Slam, say that he played brilliant aggressive tennis against Rafael Nadal in his quarter final match. If he had played like that in his final against Roger Federer, the title would be his.
This assumption is somewhat far fetched for a few reasons. The most obvious flaw in the ‘Murray attack and win plan’ is that he has played Roger Federer in both finals. There have only been two people to have beaten Federer in a Slam final before, Nadal and del Potro. Federer is no standard tennis player. In Slam finals he makes fewer errors, his mental strength is rock solid, his defense is impressive, and his attacking ability astounding. Suggesting that Murray blew his chances when he lost to Federer is not only absurd, it is insulting to both camps.
Secondly, the ‘Murray attack and win plan’ isn’t a guaranteed success against Federer. A quick look at the two people to beat him in Slam finals shows there is no apparent pattern. Nadal is a defensive player, who hits groundstrokes with huge amounts of topspin, not a lot of pace, and gets everything back. Del Potro won the US Open 2009 by hitting absolutely flying flat forehands at land speed records. The aggression del Potro showed was out of this world, much like the defense of Nadal. The key to beating Federer isn’t to play big tennis or return everything with interest, the key to beating Federer, it seems, is to simply play better. No matter what your style.
The criticism Murray has faced over the last few days has been due to his lack of aggressive play. Thinking that the key to beat Federer is through hitting massive groundstrokes is slightly misinformed, check out his head to heads against Gonzalez and Blake. What baffles me more, however, is that the media seem to assume that Murray is capable of doing a del Potro and blasting forehands faster than an Ivo Karlovic serve. Andy Murray is not an aggressive player for a reason. He doesn’t junk ball to spite the media, he doesn’t get everything back because he thinks it is a better form of tennis. Andy Murray pushes because he is a pusher. Telling Murray to step up and take the ball early, punishing a forehand past Federer to claim his first Major, is like telling Nadal to flatten his strokes out, or Federer himself to hit with a two handed backhand to counteract those high balls. It sounds great in theroy, but in reality, the reason these players play like this is because it is their game. How many times did we hear that Nadal should flatten his shots to win on a hard court? Do the media and critics assume that Murray just hasn’t thought of the aggressive approach? Of course he has, it just isn’t his natural way to play. You cannot change your game at will. That would make everyone the ultimate player.
There is one more argument being put forward at this time. The claim that Murray beat Nadal because he changed his game and played more aggressively. The reality, and noone said it better than Murray himself in his post match interview, is that Nadal is the kind of player you can be aggressive against. I was at that match and Nadal was hitting balls that hardly bounced past the service line. Not only that, Nadal is a defensive player himself, so of course it is easier to take the initiative against him and attack. Federer on the other hand, hits a lot flatter, a lot harder, and refuses to be bullied off the baseline. The men are two completely different players, what Murray managed to do against one does not guarantee the same result against the other.
Tennis is not a sport where you can go out and change your style of play at will. Different players match up to different styles. Murray may not be the most aggressive player in the world and the media need to accept that instead of suggesting he can turn into a hard-hitter at will. Defense is Murray’s game. Just as it is Nadal’s. Nadal may have not flattened out his shots or started playing like his main rival, but he has still won six Slams. The future for Murray looks bright, he just needs to be patient and work on his game. His game.