Has anyone ever been more prepared to win a major than Andy Murray? I feel like he’s taken pre-slam preparation to a whole new level. All the pros practice and the ones who care about winning do a lot of fitness training, but no one prepares for slams the way Murray does.
For the longest time, everyone who knew anything about Rafael Nadal’s tormenting of Roger Federer had some advice for Federer. Recreational players, former legends, tennis analysts, bloggers, fans, casual viewers, Chris Fowler, the list goes on. Some of the advice included slicing more, hitting with more topspin, serving and volleying, running around the backhand… this list is even longer. Nowadays the new trend is giving Murray tips on how to win his maiden major title.
The most agreed upon tactic is for Murray to be more aggressive. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve read and heard all about how slams aren’t won with defense, but with a weapon. Peter Bodo wrote a good article today about how Federer has a great serve and his forehand is awesome and Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro also have awesome forehands. However, Murray doesn’t due to technical flaws. So if you want to read about the technique and strategy problems Murray is facing, you can go elsewhere.
I want to comment on Murray’s approach to attempting to win, let’s say, the last two Australian Opens. Last year he played an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a warm up event in Doha. He won both, beating Nadal once and Federer twice. He was coming off a great 2008 where he won two Masters and reached the US Open final. In Oz, he lost to Fernando Verdasco in the 4th round.
This year, he was coming off a poor showing at the US Open, an injury in the fall, and a half-decent result at the WTF. He played one exhibition event in the form of the Hopman Cup. Then he came to Melbourne and practiced and practiced to get ready for the Aussie Open. He reached the final, only to be tamed by Federer.
At 22 years old, Murray is way too focused on the slams. As talented as he is, he’s as accomplished as Federer. When you think about players who went out of their way to focus on the slams, you think of Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras, and Federer. But these guys only started focusing on the slams when they were getting older, more injury prone, and accomplished just about everything else they had wanted to anyway. Murray has accomplished very little of what he’s set out to do. Of course he wants to win a slam, but I don’t think he should be following these guys just yet.
The reason I mentioned Murray’s preparation is because I want to compare it to the other three guys besides Federer to win the Aussie Open in the last few years.
First there’s Marat Safin. He missed the US Open in 2004 but dominated in the fall winning both Masters and falling to Federer in the semis of the TMC. His first event of 2005 was the Australian Open itself. He didn’t dominate in this tournament. He dropped five sets (one less than Federer’s worst) and was almost down two sets to one against Lleyton Hewitt in the final. But he won the whole thing nonetheless.
Then Novak Djokovic dominated in his first and currently only slam where he dropped only one set in the final. He was coming off a US Open final just like Murray only he didn’t play particularly well in the fall (he went 0-3 at TMC). However he was on fire in Melbourne.
Finally, Nadal won last year. He played in Abu Dhabi and Doha, losing to Murray and Gael Monfils respectively. After the year of a lifetime, he skipped the entire fall season, including Davis Cup, because of injury. Nonetheless, he didn’t drop a set until back-to-back 5-setters against Verdasco and Federer.
What do all these guys have in common that Murray seems to lack? It was there ability to take it one step at a time. Watching Safin, you never got the sense that he was going to be overly devastated if he had lost. He was a point from being knocked out, after all, but he pulled through. He just played his matches and tried to win his matches. He shares something with Djokovic in that neither was completely expected to win let alone get to the finals considering who their semifinal opponent was, Federer. Safin took him out in my all-time favorite match while Djokovic practically plowed through him.
Nadal wasn’t overly expected to win, either. He was supposed to be tired from his semifinal, he had never been to a hard court major, Federer had eight titles, etc. But he still did it. And if you watch the way even Federer went about his business this year, you’ll see how all four of them never felt rushed to take the title. They knew if they played their best, they’d probably win but if they didn’t, it’d be ok. Murray looked like he was rushing to the trophy from the very beginning. The nerves he showed against Marin Cilic are good proof of that. Sure you can say he’s got the weight of a nation on him, but I think he’s added too much pressure on himself.
During Federer’s post-match presser, talking about Murray, he said, “ Well, I just think he’s ‑‑ I mean, he’s a wonderful mover, tactician, great backhand. He has got everything you need to beat the best and to win big tournaments. You know, sometimes it just doesn’t happen when you want. Sometimes it all of a sudden happens without you knowing that it did.”
Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Safin, and all other slam champions rarely see their slams coming. They just play their games and focus on what they had to do each day. When they finally get their trophies, except for Safin, you can see how surprised and happy they are. Just look at Del Potro from last year’s US Open. He’s even said it a thousand times that he never expected to win, but he did simply by playing tennis.
So my advice to you, Murray, is relax. You’ve won a bunch of titles already, plenty of big ones. At the slams, play tennis. Don’t create strategies for a tournament, create strategies for each opponent. Like Federer said, you’re too talented not to win a slam one day. Just relax and play tennis.
And that goes for you, too, Novak.
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