Andy Murray’s Wimbledon can be considered a success overall: he reached his first semi-final, surpassing last year’s quarter-final showing, and wasn’t far from toppling a resurgent Andy Roddick – the star of the tournament – in the last four.
The British world number three did enough to suggest he could well win at SW19 in future years, but his campaign also showed that he is not yet the finished article, and needs to improve in a couple of areas if he is to become the Grand Slam champion this country is longing for.
During the Wimbledon fortnight while I was down at SW19, I managed to grab an interview with Larry Stefanki – the man behind Andy Roddick’s return to form – and spoke to him on where he felt Murray was going slightly awry in his quest for major success.
Stefanki pulled no punches, saying that the Scot is “stuck playing defensive tennis” and needs to “change his mentality of the way he wants to play this game at the very top level”. Stefanki also pinpointed the Brit’s second serve, saying it was “very attackable. That was the plan, to move in and club some second serve returns.”
Whilst some people have said one defeat shouldn’t result in someone of Stefanki’s standing criticising his game, many pundits have come out and agreed with his comments.
While Murray isn’t far from being the best in the world and continues to impress at Masters level and below, during Grand Slam tournaments he has come up against players who have played themselves into a groove and taken the play to him and has not been able to cope under a barrage of aggressive groundstrokes.
In the last year or so, Murray was completely outhit by Nadal at Wimbledon 2008 before avenging the loss in the semi-finals of the US Open by being more offensive, before being taken apart by a rampant Federer in the final. At this year’s Australian Open the man who took care of Murray was Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, and again it was the Brit who let his opponent dictate play and ultimately prevail.
The same thing happened on clay at the French Open against Fernando Gonzalez, and could well have been repeated in the fourth round at SW19 against Stanislas Wawrinka had it not been for Murray’s superior physical conditioning and the deafening support of the centre court crowd.
Against Roddick in the last four, the American was more penetrating off the ground and looked prepared to take the necessary risks that are rewarded over the course of a five set match and that lead to winning the major trophies. And as Stefanki and others say, therein lies the problem.
During the course of a two-week Grand Slam event, Murray needs to be able to impose himself better than he has done recently. Knowing when to attack and press home the advantage is crucial, as is the ability to take the match by the scruff of the neck.
At present, Murray still has a habit of waiting for opponents to beat themselves, as they get frustrated by his change in spins, direction and pace, and this has proved a successful approach over the season as a whole. However, during a Grand Slam, players tend not to allow themselves to get as frustrated as they may do during other tournaments, and slugging it out over five sets means players can get into more of a groove when it comes to finding their length and having the courage to really go for their shots.
While Murray is still only 22 and has many years of challenging for the top titles ahead of him, and is certainly a potential multiple Grand Slam winner, he needs to make some changes to his game and his tactical approach if he is to fulfil his talent. If he doesn’t, he risks being overtaken by some of the outstanding characters who have no qualms about hitting out and dominating their opponents: players like Juan Martin Del Potro and France’s Jo Wilfried Tsonga.
Murray has the best hands and footwork in the business, alongside Federer, and has the capacity to take the game to his opponent more, but until he starts doing it regularly he will be reluctant to adopt such an approach during those clutch moments he will definitely face en route to a Grand Slam victory.
In terms of specific shots, he needs to be more prepared to unleash on his forehand. That’s the wing he struggles to impose with, partly because of the way he hits the ball. He doesn’t whip the ball like Federer or Nadal, and while it’s solid, he can’t unleash vicious winners with ease.
But that’s not the biggest concern – a few tweaks and his forehand can be more explosive. His second serve however needs some serious beefing up. Against Roddick it was often rolling into the hitting zone at no more than 90 miles an hour, and the top players will simply tee off on it.
If he can make those changes, as well as addressing his mental approach, he can win a Grand Slam and even become world number one.
He needs to do it sooner rather than later though, for if he doesn’t, he risks slipping from his perch, and for him not to win the biggest titles in the game would be a crashing disappointment, and a travesty considering his outstanding talent.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge