How can Andy Murray improve his game?

By Online Editorial
Juan Martin del Potros triumph at the US Open takes him up to number five in the rankings

del Potro is now ranked at number five in the world (Photo: Christian Mesiano)

Juan Martin del Potro’s US Open victory threatens to leave the British Number one behind as the power boys set themselves for a period of dominance.

Andy Murray’s standing within the game has changed after a dramatic fortnight at Flushing Meadows, capped off with Juan Martin Del Potro’s first ever Grand Slam win last night. In contrast with the Argentine’s superb run, Murray posted his worst Grand Slam performance of the year by some margin, losing extremely tamely to Maran Cilic in the fourth round.

In watching Del Potro beat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to win the Open, Murray should realise winning his first major title just became an even more daunting prospect that will require a fundamental shift in the way he prepares for and plays the four Grand Slam events.

In beating both Nadal and Federer, you felt we were witnessing a shift in power at the top of the men’s game. The last person to break the Nadal-Federer duopoly in Slams was Novak Djokovic during last year’s Australian Open, although he only had to beat a half fit Federer in the process.

Against Del Potro, both the world’s two best players seemed unable to cope with the Argentine’s power off the ground. Solid as a rock off both wings, with a fearsome serve to boot, Del Potro looked every bit the next world number one.

So where does that leave Murray?

He has had a very good year, reaching number two in the world rankings and also winning a couple of Masters Series titles. However, he knows that he will always have his knockers and will be classed in the same bracket as the likes of Tim Henman by many people until he becomes a Grand Slam winner.

In losing to Cilic, it didn’t look like the Scot had learned the lessons of his previous Major disappointments. Prior to the US, Murray had lost to Verdasco, Gonzalez and Roddick in the year’s other Slams, on each occasion allowing his opponent to dictate the tempo and pace of the match, and being out-hit off the ground all too often.

Murray’s strength lies in his variety and his tactical brain, using a bevy of spins and angles to bamboozle his opponents. What has become clear though is that when he comes up against one of the games big hitters over five sets, he can struggle to contain their pace, and is often left chasing shadows.

Murray will never be a big hitter in the mould of del Potro, whose fierce drives off both flanks from the baseline are amongst the biggest the game has ever seen, but he needs to beef up a couple of areas in his game to give himself the chance of joining the Argentine on the Champion’s rostrum.

Firstly, Murray’s second serve needs some serious work. While his first serve can be a strength, when he misses he often rolls the second delivery in at around the 90 mile an hour mark, which sits up and begs to be hit.

With the new wave of players like Del Potro, Tsonga and Cilic and the way they attack short or slow balls, it’s hardly surprising Murray’s second serve is targeted. After seeing the way Murray has improved his first serve, there’s no reason that he can’t make the necessary adjustments to give his second serve more bite too.

The cornerstone of Del Potro’s triumph, and indeed Federer’s years of dominance, has been their ability to unleash fierce forehands to dominate their opponents. While Murray’s forehand is generally reliable, he can struggle to create pace off that side, particularly off ‘junk’ balls. This is a more difficult problem to fix than the second serve as the technical changes that required would be difficult to implement.

However, as John McEnroe pointed out, Murray’s fitness levels are now clearly good enough, so could he spend a bit less time in the gym and a bit more time beefing up his forehand and second serve, perhaps with the help of an experienced coach well versed in technical nuances.

Those changes are important, but perhaps even more key is Murray’s mindset before big matches. He needs to step on court determined that he will dominate proceedings, and dictate the points. Murray should still look to draw his opponents out of their comfort zone, but with the added threat of increased power off the ground, thus avoiding being predictable as seems to currently be the case.

Murray may well still be in the world’s top-three, but as is evident from the women’s game, the rankings can be misleading. It is difficult to argue that after the Flushing Meadows fortnight, Del Potro hasn’t overtaken Murray in terms of genuine standing within the game. That Del Potro is the younger man, with a more powerful game, is a worry for Murray and his Grand Slam chances. It won’t get any easier for Murray too, as the likes of Cilic improves.

The British number one needs to sit down with his team, adopt a more positive approach to his big Grand Slam matches, and work on his technical deficiencies, or he risks being left behind by the next wave of men’s tennis stars.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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