Andy Murray is a long, gangly eighteen-year old. He looks like a hangdog teenager whose mother just told him, “You have two choices young man, you can take the garbage out and be happy about it or you can take the garbage out with a chip on your shoulder. Either way, take the garbage out, now!”
Andy Roddick is five years older than Murray. On the ATP tour, that’s a lifetime. In five years Roddick has gone from being the great U.S. hope to a grand slam winner to the edge of being a disappointment. It’s ridiculous to mention the word disappointment considering that he’s the number three player in the world, but he doesn’t look like a real threat to get to number one and that is a disappointment.
When a player has more than one or two shots in their repertoire, it’s a good indication that they are skilled in crafting a point.
Murray will not avoid the same expectations. The young man from Scotland jumped from the 400’s to the 60’s in ranking last year. You hope he doesn’t go too far too fast, meaning that his tennis skills might outrun his emotional maturity. Media training sessions for tennis prodigies are inadequate for dealing with the British press. You need something more like a masters degree in serpentology.
Let’s see how their games match up by looking at their semifinal match at the 2006 SAP Open. Murray managed to beat Roddick for his first victory over a top ten player, 7-5, 7-5.
Roddick’s biggest weapon is his serve. Most of his winners, by far, come from aces and service winners. If he’s feeling good, he can regularly serve over 130 mph and sometimes in the 140’s. If his life depended on it, he could serve over 150 mph. Murray serves in the 120’s but, and you’ll hear this a lot, changes speeds well and hits spots. In this match, Murray piled up more service winners than Roddick.
Roddick’s next big weapon is his inside out forehand. Which brings up Murray’s slice backhand. When Murray is pulled wide by Roddick’s inverted forehand, his slice backhand is a very good defensive shot that, to some degree, neutralizes Roddick’s best shot.
Murray has a diverse game. While more than half of Roddick’s ground stroke winner came off the inside out forehand, Murray had four forehand winners and four backhand winners from the baseline, four winners off approach shots, four passing shots and four winning volleys. That’s diversity
When a player has more than one or two shots in their repertoire, it’s a good indication that they are skilled in crafting a point. Serving at 3-4 in the second set, Murray hit four straight balls to Roddick’s backhand – two crosscourt and two down the line. On the next shot he hit a sharp crosscourt forehand to pull Roddick out of the court then hit a backhand winner to the open court. That’s called crafting a point.
After pulling off the shot of the match, a running backhand passing shot that was inches off the ground, Roddick stopped and raised his hand as if he was a conductor motioning to the crowd that they should now express appreciation.
Roddick, on the other hand, does not craft points particularly well and does not always take advantage of his strengths. Even at three games each in the first set, Roddick hit a good first serve and Murray floated the return. Roddick hit a hard inside out forehand but didn’t follow it to the net. After a second inside out forehand, Roddick managed to pressure Murray into an error but there are his two best shots and he didn’t take advantage of either one. He didn’t serve and volley on a strong first serve and he didn’t come to the net after running his opponent wide.
Murray is patient. He’ll keep the ball in play until the opportunity presents itself. He looks like he’s just getting the ball back in play until he sees a patch of open court and hits the ball as hard as he can to get it there. But he’s still young. After winning the first set 7-5 then breaking Roddick to go up 3-2 in the second set, Murray evidently thought he should put the match away because he started to force shots. He forced a forehand approach, came to the net on a weak shot and went for a big forehand winner off a weak return to give the break right back.
Murray is prone to nervousness. After breaking Roddick again in the second set, Murray served for the match. After Roddick hit a net cord return that dropped for a winner, that’s enough to unnerve anyone, Murray served up two double faults, the second one on match point. He put a backhand into the net before gathering himself together to make a good first serve and get his second match point. Roddick hit the ball wide and Murray finally had his victory.
Roddick is an expressive hothead. Not in the mode of John McEnroe or Nicolas Kiefer, but he will mock the chair umpire and express a fair amount of sarcasm if he thinks he’s been wronged. It makes his matches entertaining because he’s emotional and he plays to the crowd. After pulling off the shot of the match, a running backhand passing shot that was inches off the ground, Roddick stopped and raised his hand as if he was a conductor motioning to the crowd that they should now express appreciation.
Murray is a quiet, low-key person. When a reporter asked him how he felt about beating Roddick and knocking off his first top ten player, he said it was “a dream come true.” With Murray, however, it was hard to know if it was a dream come true or he was ordering breakfast with that quiet monotone voice of his.
That’s o.k., the British public is not all that keen about showboating. They’d be happy enough if Murray can become an elite player and over the moon if he can bring home a slam or two. If not, we’ll be right here to compare him to the next great young player who comes along and knocks him off.
That’s just the way it is.