So the grandslam record for Andy Murray now reads; 3 slam finals, 3 losses 0 sets for and 9 sets against. Its disappointing for us fans who in hope rather than expectation got up in the middle of the night to watch him toil under the lights of the Rod Laver Arena. It was uncomfortable viewing as Murray toiled to win his service games and faced break point after break point. Andy seemed irritable, tetchy and like the temperamental teenager of old. Novak was simply too strong, too much power from the back of the court as he exhibited incredible defensive skills.
So Britain’s best chance of a major winner since Fred Perry in 1936 is still trophy less. The much maligned media are always quick to jump on his back, saying he is the new Tim Henman. Even part time tennis fans start to infuriate me by saying that he just isn’t cut out for grandslam success. Murray has the game, maybe the greatest repertoire of shots in the modern game and has had fantastic success on tour. So why then is Andy still empty handed when it comes to slams?
The answer possibly lies in Murrays mental approach, during the final Andy seemed almost so relaxed he wasn’t focused, he hadn’t got his rackets strung at the correct tension and seemed to develop an itch from the same top he has been wearing the past fortnight in Melbourne. In a tennis game you have enough to worry about without having other things (within Andy’s control) distracting him. As Andre Agassi said in his book, he controlled the things that were within his control.
Perhaps Andy could benefit from a sports psychologist to focus his mind in these big matches, a 0 set return from 3 slam finals is poor, even considering the opposition. I would have expected to at least nab a set against Novak and last year he had a set point against Roger but he faltered. We tend to see the same characteristics in every loss to Murray, anger frustration and distraction and ultimately performing at a very low level.
One area which I feel has been overlooked by commentators in the aftermath of this defeat is Andy’s tactics. Andy plays too conservatively to beat guys like Rafa and Roger in slam finals. Sure consistency can win you the majority of matches, keeping the ball in play and hoping that your opponent misses. To win a slam you need a good blend of defensive capabilities and attacking prowess. Andy rarely steps into the court and takes the initiative in rallies. To win a Grandslam which I think he will, Murray must be more aggressive, hit the corners, hit the lines.
Roger, Rafa, Novak and Juan Martin (the most recent slam winners) all possess what Murray unfortunately does not ; a forehand capable of winning a rally at any time. Murray has to slog it out and create the space before usually wrong footing his opponent. Can Murray work on hitting the ball harder? I am sure he could, but since his wrist injury in Hamburg, Andy has failed to have the pop on his forehand. Perhaps it isn’t a case of just having raw power, maybe its using the power he has in the right part of the court.
A change of coach could be what is needed. Although he has failed to win any majors since his appointment, Paul Annacone has given Roger Federer a new game plan, new ideas and a renewed hunger and desire to win. There is a clear change in strategy from Roger of old and Roger post August 2010. Federer is now hugely aggressive on the return of serve, he puts greater focus on holding serve and seemingly those Mirka moments that he seems to have been suffering from have been less prevalent. Andy could benefit from a coach, an Annacone type figure who has won slams with other players in the past. The list of potential coaches is very short.
Looking ahead to 2011, Andy next looks forward to the US Hard court season in March in Miami and Indian Wells followed by a gruelling clay court season in Europe and the grass season. The top players have a longer holiday off during February than they do during the official off season, hopefully Andy can use it to come back more refreshed and with a new coach in his team.