Every tournament has its own personality and often it has a revelation or two along the way. While Novak Djokovic was losing to Rafael Nadal in the final at Indian Wells today, I thought back to Friday night’s match between Andy Murray and Tommy Haas.
Andy Murray was the revelation this week for me and watching Djokovic brought it to mind. Djokovic is a typical young and upcoming tennis player. He hits the ball very hard from the baseline and will approach the net if the situation calls for it. He has a favorite shot and it’s the favorite shot of most professional tennis players today: the inside out forehand.
Jim Courier is the first player I remember watching who hit that shot so it’s not particularly new but now it has become ubiquitous. Serving wide to the deuce court then hitting an inside out forehand to the opposite side of the court is part of most players’ repertoires. The problem is that most players’ repertoires are not as large as they could be.
And that’s where Murray comes in. He puts the ball wherever he wants it to go at any speed and any altitude. Inside out forehand, drop shot, moonball, defensive lob, short shot to draw his opponent to the net, top class first serve, he has it all. Along with the shots he has the intelligence to use them well enough to dissect his opponent’s game. He’s not alone, Roger Federer is pretty good at it too. And he’s also not ranked as high as Djokovic who moved into the top ten with his appearance in the final today. But I would have chosen him to beat Djokovic and get to the final if he hadn’t fallen and hurt himself in the Haas match.
Take this for instance. I don’t think it would have taken Murray more than a set to realize that running around your backhand to hit an inside out forehand leaves an open court for Nadal to hit a forehand down the line. More than a few players have beaten Nadal this year by attacking his forehand but if Djokovic had seen Nadal take Andy Roddick apart in the semifinals, he would have realized that Nadal seems to have found his forehand once again.
A few games into the second set Djokovic starting hitting to Nadal’s backhand and we finally had a tennis match to watch. With Nadal serving at 2-1, Djokovic managed to get three break points but couldn’t convert them. Serving at 5-5, he faced his own break point and got himself in position to hit a good volley. Unfortunately the ball limped off his racket and landed right in Nadal’s wheelhouse. Nadal got his break and served out for a 6-2, 7-5, victory and his first title since the French Open last year.
Djokovic didn’t play the important points well but he’s only nineteen years old and this is his first Masters Series final and he did well to get here. Next time, I’ll be waiting to see what happens when both Murray and Djokovic are healthy. Oh, and if Federer can stick around long enough in Miami next week, maybe we’ll even get to to see Federer and Nadal go at it again.