I tuned into the Andy Murray – Stan Wawrinka match just as Wawrinka served and volleyed to put away the tiebreaker in the second set and pulled even at one set all in their third round match at the U.S. Open. Serve and volley is an aggressive move, especially at set point, and that was so appropriate, I thought to myself, considering that offense and defense have been on my mind in this Open.
For instance, why is it that Rafael Nadal can crush balls at Wimbledon but can’t get past the semifinals here? There’s an obvious answer. Roger Federer seems to be the only player who ever looks fresh at the U.S. Open. Rafa may not play a whole lot more tournaments than Roger but he’s got those tender knees and you can add at least two tournaments to his yearly total just by adjusting for all that running around he does on clay.
Then there’s offense defense. On clay, no problem. Rafa knows exactly what he needs to do. On grass there’s also no conflict. It’s offense from the get go. On the New York hard courts, though, which is it? What’s too offensive and what’s too defensive?
The first answer is ramp up your serve as high as possible. My grudging appreciation for Rafa’s grinding style continued to soar as he dumped in a 134mph(216kph) serve in his second round victory over Denis Istomin. That was impressive! Hard serving can be too offensive if your first serve percentage drops but Rafa still managed to get 65% of those in. Also impressive.
Istomin was the aggressor in that match however. He went for shots time after time and made a lot of them. He played the match of his life and still lost in straight sets, poor guy. There may be other players on tour who could have won that match, but none of them would have done it in straight sets. None of them has Rafa’s combination of fight and defense.
Rafa may win this thing next Sunday, especially with his new warp speed serve, but I’d love to see a bit more Istomin in him because then I’d guarantee it.
Murray is another guy who’s defensive but without the fight. Maybe fight isn’t the correct word because he’s an ubercompetitive guy. Let’s just call it focus. He broke Wawrinka to start out the third set then flew apart. He started grumbling at himself and challenged a ball that was three feet out inviting a few boos in the process.
He gave the break back and, in the next game, made an ill-advised approach on a crosscourt shot then timidly bunted a backhand right into Warinka’s wheelhouse. Offense/defense confusion. Andy’s main coach at the moment – except for his mum – is Alex Corretja, a former player who never got past the quarterfinals at a hard court slam and only reached the second round at Wimbledon. Maybe not the best aggression counselor.
I lost a match badly yesterday to a very good player. I emailed my coach and complained that I had trouble being aggressive because I get too emotional when I play tennis. He suggested the problem is not being too emotional but being too judgmental. Maybe my comment about wanting to jump of a cliff clued him in, not sure.
Anyway, Murray has the same problem. If his strategy isn’t disarming his opponent he turns a gun on himself and abandons his game. That’s particularly annoying when you consider that he’s got more game than 95% of the tour. I know he saw a sports psychologist in 2007 after injuring his wrist because he was concerned about injuring it again and maybe it’s time for another visit.
Or maybe he’s got some parental issues and needs to replace the coach he recently let go, Miles McLagan. I know Murray likes to do the tribal thing with his coaching staff but a solid figurehead might be useful when you’re slogging through those five set matches and the heat and the noise of New York.
Wawrinka won that third set and was up 5-3 in the fourth when Murray played a bit of cat and mouse by hitting a backhand overhead drop shot. Honestly, I don’t know what else to call it. He ran his racket softly across the ball and dropped it short in the service box. Wawrinka got to it then ran down a Murray lob, turned, and powered a perfect backhand down the line past Murray.
The game didn’t end there but the match was over. How better to demonstrate the point. Murray was fooling around and Wawrinka ended all the foolishness with a powerful statement.
One last comment about defense. After beating Andy Roddick in the second round, Janko Tipsarevic said that Roddick was playing too defensively. I’m gonna give Roddick a pass because I think he’s still suffering the energy drain of mononucleosis. Roddick reported that he’s had a mild case of mono for the past two months.
Roddick had no energy on his groundstrokes and those foot faults told me that he has slightly impaired balance. His front foot kept creeping forward in his windup and that shows some instability. Low energy will do that to you.
I’m tempted to blame Roddick’s mini-Serena meltdown after his first foot fault on mono too, except that Roddick has always been a very emotional guy. Roddick was pissed off because the lineswoman told him the wrong foot when he asked which foot touched the line.
Roddick asked the question to intimidate the lineswoman because his front foot would have been halfway into the court if the fault had been called on his back foot. You’d have to be suffering from dropsy to be that unaware. The problem is that the chair umpire responded by removing the lineswoman instead of warning Roddick to calm himself down or face a penalty.
Roddick is the cash cow of U.S. broadcasts so he was never going to be tossed but the chair umpire should have stood up for the lineswoman. He should have given Roddick a warning and advised him, in a friendly enough manner, to get over it.