Andy Murray in Oz — Too Much Pressure
by Ben Pronin | February 1st, 2010, 11:16 pm

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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28 Comments for Andy Murray in Oz — Too Much Pressure

the_mind_reels Says:

So, Ben, not to nitpick here, but in your post-tournament assessment, you say that you weren’t too impressed with Federer’s post-match speech, particularly his comment about Murray being too good not to win a slam. And now, you’ve basically given a ton of weight to Fed’s comment by writing an entire article about his exact point.

I agree it wasn’t an earth-shattering comment, but what else was he going to say? He and Murray don’t have the history that he and Nadal do, and him losing last year probably felt a lot worse than had he lost here this year. Like he said, Murray will win a slam — he’s too good not to. That’s pretty much all there was to say.

jane Says:

I haven’t read Ben’s wrap article yet, but I interpreted this one to be mainly about how Murray puts too much pressure on himself via the slams and winning one (he seems like a very determined lad, aye?), though I tend to think a lot of it is externally imposed as well. Ben you pointed out how a lot of the players weren’t expected to win, but Murray keeps getting picked as one of the favorites by all the pundits (Gilbert, J-Mac, etc, etc,) at the slams (even beginning from AO last year) so he must hear this and it must bug him that he’s not fulfilled their prophecies. Moreover,it must weigh on him that Roddick, Delpo, Djoko (notwithstanding Fed & Rafa) all have a slam. So Murray must be itching to get one. He’s in an odd spot. I can see how it must be tough to shut all that stuff out. After winning one, he will relax! But hopefully he can do so sooner or it becomes a vicious cycle.

margot Says:

jane: his head must be spinning and spinning with all this advice! As for the pundits picking him all the time, that is some pressure. I now see he is an outsider for rhe F.O. Phew! Please all u tennis grandees, to paraphrase Queen I think, ” Leave that kid alone!”
Talked a bit about delpot to u, previous thread.

jane Says:

margot: yep, “leave that kid alone” alright – was it the Queen or Pink Floyd who said that? : ) Murray just needs to do what Ben says really, relax and play his tennis. And maybe ban all media from his life for a while. LOL.

Yep, I read what you said about Delpo. I don’t know whether Fed underestimated him or not, but I’d be surprised if he did, only because their match at the FO was so close! It was almost Delpo (and not Nadal) who foiled Fed’s hope of a French. Delpo even fought back from a break down in the 5th set. So I am sure that going into the USO final Fed was fully aware of who he was facing and the threat he posed. I honestly think Delpo just out-powered Fed. He played a great match and was so mentally stable. Indeed, the one sense I’d agree on the under-estimating bit would be that Fed may’ve thought “this is his first slam final; he’ll be nervous” or something like that. But Delpo held it all in quite effectively (until the tears when he won), though his nerves did show at times. I really think Delpo deserved that win. As for Fed vs. Murray, Fed knew what to expect to a degree, and he adjusted accordingly; he was also just having a great “form” day, so what can you do? Murray wasn’t at his best, imo; he played well just not as well as I’ve seen him play before. Anyhow, it’s Murray’s turn to make some adjustments, and I think he will. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t give up on him!

Dianne Says:

“As talented as he is, he’s as accomplished as Federer”.

I think you missed the NOT as accomplished as Federer. Federer vs Murray- 62 titles vs 14, 16 GS vs O, 268 weeks at number one vs O, 16 Masters Series 1000 titles 16 vs 4, oh and lets not forget Tennis World Final Titles 4 vs 0.

Nina Says:

I agree that to Murray everything that is not winning a grand slam seems like a failure. He should take it one step at a time. I don’t think anyone out there has any doubt about Murray winning a slam in the future. I mean it’s obvious that his talent and strategy game will take him there. But he has to stop obsessing about it, just like Novak has to stop obsessing about becoming nº1. It all will come naturally when they least expect it. High expectations always ruin a career. One step at a time.

Huh Says:

“Murray wasn’t at his best, imo; he played well just not as well as I’ve seen him play before.”

Partly coz of Fed not allowing him to do so. He was very much targetting Fed’s BH(his most underrated shot) but Murray and also others should have looked a little bit to the Fed BH of 03-07 and learnt something. Anyway, the rest is history.

Huh Says:

If I had just one thing to tell Murray, it’d be: fix your damn serve first!

Nina Says:

@Huh “If I had just one thing to tell Murray, it’d be: fix your damn serve first!”

Same to Novak, that’s the only thing that’s missing in their game and without that they’re toast.

Dan Martin Says:

An interesting take that I largely agree with … I think if Murray were a Swede or a Spaniard he’d have less external pressure, but how to handle self-imposed pressure is tricky. Edberg played every point with the same basic goals whether it was a 40-0 point at 2-2 in the first set or a championship point. Becker and Sampras seemed to try to dial up something big when either up a set point or trying to save a break point. Players come up with different solutions to the problem of internalized pressure and pressure situations during matches. Murray needs to find an approach that works for him.

I think Murray can be positive about the fact that in the past 52 weeks he has posted his best Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon results of his career. Obviously, Murray on paper will not be one of the top 4 favorites at the French Open and this may help him. Who would have expected Agassi to breakthrough on grass beating Becker and Goran along the way? In fact if I were Murray I may give Agassi a call as his first three Grand Slam finals saw Andre look at times like a deer in the headlights who could not summon his best tennis when needed. Agassi eventually learned to play well in major finals.

Huh Says:

Thanks for your response Nina. :)

margot Says:

Dan: nice comments, thanks.
huh: are those clips on utube? BTW Fed not at his peak 2004, don’t you think?

Huh Says:


Nole becomes murderous at his best and he flogged my Fed at AO 08 semi like crazy! :(

But I like Nole a lot and would even root for him this year vs Fed whenever the situation warrants. Let those guys bring on their best games and face Fed! Let’s see what these guys have got!

Huh Says:


People are claiming Fed was not at his peak, but look at those matches and you’d find out for yourself that Fed was playing almost like his peak, as I said, just see! And yes, google and type keywords, e.g. ‘federer vs nalbandian US Open 2003 video’ and then you’d get that from you tube. Those were amazing matches! Fed was gamewise, physically and mentally defeated in the most helpless manner by Guga, Nalby, Safin & Hewitt in those matches! Jaw-breaking performances! It’s unbelievable to see that Fed was doing just about nothing wrong, rather everything right, but these guys were just unplayable, unbeatable and unstoppable! FREAKISH AND HELLISH! Fed had no way except losing! That’s my opinion and I’d stick to it. But for now, see them, enjoy, examine and respond back!


Huh Says:

I must stop drooling over those astonishing matches or I’d have a heart-attack! :/

Huh Says:

“Andy Murray tries hard to be the tough guy, but he has shown us all just how much he cares. I’ve never seen him that emotional – he couldn’t even finish his post-match speech. But Roger Federer summed it up perfectly: Andy is too good a player not to win a grand slam.

By Boris Becker
Published: 8:00AM GMT 01 Feb 2010

Link to this video He played the best major tournament of his career at the Australian Open, it was just that there was one player better, Federer. There is no shame in that.

Sportsmen often talk of taking the positives from defeat, and this one has at least revealed the areas that Andy needs to improve on over the coming months. In his next tournaments, in Marseille, Dubai and Indian Wells, Andy must practice his aggression.

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Sport on television How assertive he was in the final was always going to be crucial. At the very start of the match he went head to head with Roger, but he then reverted to his usual defensive game, and allowed Roger to play such great tennis.

Even when he had set points, in the third set, he could not take the big step. He tried to attack, but a mid-court forehand let him down. It is not a shot he would usually select, and on the big points, tennis players revert to instinct.

It was a revealing moment, and one which showed that Andy now needs to improve technically, to ingrain the killer shot so deep inside him that it becomes instinctive to play it at the right moment, like Roger. That is the next stage in his progression.

It is much easier to change yourself physically than play around with what is your natural tennis instinct, but Andy has to keep a positive attitude.

Going back to my time, no one ever thought in a million years that Ivan Lendl would reach a Wimbledon final. But he worked so hard and ended up making it to two finals.

Lendl hired Tony Roach as a coach to help him, and Andy should do something similar, get one of the greats of tennis to help him with the instinctive side of the game.

I was looking at Andy’s box during the match, and there was no one up there who knows what it is like to be out in a grand slam final. Don’t get me wrong, Team Murray are first rate – they have made Andy the third best player on the planet – but you cannot learn the skills you need out on the centre court from a book, or from hearsay.

You need to talk to people like John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, someone Andy would listen to and respect.

For Murray, it is now about playing the right shot at the right time, not running or going to the gym.

I’m not putting myself forward – my plate is already full – but maybe someone older, who can come in for the four grand slams, and talk about the five or so make-or-break shots in a match, and how best to play them.

Andy will be among the top men’s players over the next five years, but if he wants to be above them, not amid them, he needs to have someone in his corner who knows what it is like to win a grand slam, to climb the Mount Everest of tennis.

The air is thin up there, and Andy needs to surround himself with people who have been to the summit, who can describe to him how they got there, and how he can as well.”


Great observation and suggestions by Becker for Murray to get the job done IMO.

jane Says:

“I must stop drooling over those astonishing matches or I’d have a heart-attack! :/”

Very funny huh. : )

BTW, I agree Fed had something to do with Murray not playing his best; of course it works both ways! Also agree Murray needs a stronger second serve. When his first serve is firing, though, as it was a lot at the AO, it’s pretty darn good!

jane Says:

Thanks for posting Becker’s comments on Murray huh; those seem quite effective! I had never thought of the Murray team in those terms, but it’s true that it might help him to be coached, or at least talked to, but someone who has been in those situations before – in slam finals. Also who knows about instinct and how to redirect it. Good article!

Huh Says:

“Even when he had set points, in the third set, he could not take the big step. He tried to attack, but a mid-court forehand let him down. It is not a shot he would usually select, and on the big points, tennis players revert to instinct.

It was a revealing moment, and one which showed that Andy now needs to improve technically, to ingrain the killer shot so deep inside him that it becomes instinctive to play it at the right moment, like Roger. That is the next stage in his progression.

For Murray, it is now about playing the right shot at the right time, not running or going to the gym. ”

This is the most important part of Becker’s opinion IMO.

Huh Says:

You’re welcome Mrs.Jane. :)

David Says:

Interesting comments from Becker. I think the technical improvement has got to come on the forehand side. We already know he has one of the best backhands in the world. He’s fit, fast, plays great defense. His serve is much more consistent, although it deserted him somewhat in the final.

The forehand is what stands out for me, not that it’s a bad shot by any means but it’s not a big weapon and that’s typically what makes the difference in these big Slam finals.

I’d like to see Andy make that improvement, but I think we all know how difficult it is to make technical improvements at this stage of his career.

sar Says:

For Murray, it is now about playing the right shot at the right time, not running or going to the gym. ”

In addition to Becker, Fed made a vague reference to this in one of his pressers. Something like: you don’t need to go running up and down sand dunes to win.

Nina Says:

@Huh… Exactly, that’s what every tennis fan should pray for. And now with Rafa out of the equation (at least temporarily but who knows when the real Rafa will come back), Nole, Muzza, Delpo, Cilic and Kolya must do their best and present battle against Federer. I said before that 2010 would be Nole’s year and stick to that.

jane Says:

Nina, sar, I thought you both might appreciate this tidbit about Novak:

“He finished as the world number three for the third consecutive year, and in doing so he became the first player to finish as number three for three straight years since Mats Wilander managed the feat from 1985-87.”

It’s from this article:

sar Says:

Thanks Jane. On TV I saw where it said his residence is Dubai instead of Monte Carlo now. Seems to me, if he plays his cards right he could be a sort of Fed-like European character. If he can get a watch endorsement that would be great. He has a European flavor in that he speaks many languages like Roger too. Crowds love that. Since they have buried the hatchet in Basel like madmax says and Fed invited him to his Haiti exhibition looks like things are going swimmingly. lol

Kimmi Says:

“For Murray, it is now about playing the right shot at the right time, not running or going to the gym. ”””

Murray can continue with his fitness regimes as well as work on his game technicalities. His fitness regime is what made him the player he is right now. If you can play the right shots at the right time without fitness, it will not take you anywhere…I believe this is what federer as well as Nadal are always working on. We heard about Novak working on his fitness too. Don’t think Boris is giving a good advice here.

Murray will be OK. He is slowly starting to bring offense in his game. Good luck to him.

Fot Says:

Nole fans… I noticed off court he wears glasses. Does he wear contacts on court? Just wondering.

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