Murray vs. Roddick - a Rivalry in the Making
Murray will have to improve his serve if he expects to challenge the king.
Over the years some of the great tennis rivalries have been made between outstanding players with contrasting styles. The Sampras serve vs.
the Agassi return. The patient and icy cool precision of Borg at the baseline vs. the combative, net rushing of McEnroe. And the list goes on quite long, Evert vs. Navratilova, Connors vs. McEnroe, even Laver vs.
Rosewall (but that one is going back quite a while).
Well, to my eye, there is a new rivalry brewing, that matches the powerful, big serving Andy Roddick against the smooth versatile and seemingly effortless Andy Murray. Roddick was coached by Brad Gilbert as he ascended the rankings, and now Murray is coached by Gilbert as he continues his climb into the top ten. They have played five times, Roddick the most recent winner in Memphis 6-3, 7-6, Murray the winner in San Jose 7-6, 6-4. In 2006 Roddick won in Cincinnati 6-3, 6-4, and Murray prevailed at Wimbledon 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 and at San Jose 7-5, 7-5. Though none of these matches went the distance, the scores were quite close. And I believe these two contenders will have many more battles to come.
It's a match-up between an excellent server against an excellent returner, and an average server against an
They have played two very close matches in the past few months (San Jose and Memphis) and the stats tell quite a story. But before going into detail, a few more words on contrasting styles. Roddick serves very big, and looks to punish his forehand, often running around the backhand for huge inside out drives. If the receiver cannot handle the return, or cannot place the return consistently deep, then Roddick is in the steam roller mode. His movement is okay, backhand okay, but his competitiveness is truly excellent. He is developing a net game, but his return of serve continues to need work.
Murray, on the other hand, does not possess either a particularly punishing or effective serve. Sometimes the first delivery is big, but more often it is inconsistent, and the second serve is unfortunately predictable. He is excellent off the ground; forehand and backhand are equally deadly (so he is less prone to run
around the backhand), but his forte is the return of serve.
this match-up we have an excellent server against an excellent returner (on one
hand) and an average server against an average returner (on the other hand).
The longer the rally, the more the odds favor the Scot; the higher the first serve percentage, the more the odds favor the Yank. But they are both so ultra-competitive, and with totally committed coaches in their corner, that in every instance, both come to the court fully expecting to win.
They played in the semifinal at the SAP Open in San Jose, and the following
stats truly tell the story, where Murray prevailed 7-6, 6-4.
Match Statistics Roddick Murray
Aces 6 7
Double Faults 2 2
1st Serve Percentage 55% (37/67) 61% (47/76)
1st Serve Points Won 75% (28/37) 68% (32/47)
2nd Serve Points Won 46% (14/30) 62% (18/29)
Break Points Saved 57% (4/7) 75% (3/4)
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 31% (15/47) 24% (9/37)
2nd Return Points Won 37% (11/29) 53% (16/30)
Break Points Won 25% (1/4) 42% (3/7)
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 62% (42/67) 65% (50/76)
Total Return Points Won 34% (26/76) 37% (25/67)
Total Points Won 47% (68/143) 52% (75/143)
Reading between the lines, the story of this particular match was the return of serve and subsequent rally. Roddick was a little low on his first serve percentage, but converted 3/4ths of the points in that situation. Further (and this is an area that Murray can certainly improve), his first serve percentage was pretty good but his winning percentage on those first serves was a little low. So if the story is that "you are only as good as your second serve," what is unspoken is the other side of the coin. That is, you are only as good as your second serve if and when the opponent knows how to return in that situation. And Murray may be only second to Federer in this category.
Roddick won less than half the points when hitting his second serve, Murray on the other hand won nearly as many points on his second serve as on his first serve. Jimmy Connors has his hands full on this one, for the coach (Jimbo) returned light years better than his student (Rambo).
Click photo: Murray produces great power off both wings with relative ease.
Often there are many "tells" in the pre match warm-up. In this match-up Roddick appeared muscular, Murray fluid. Roddick with an awkward closed stance two-hander, Murray more balanced and with a better hip turn into the hit. Roddick moved explosively, charging about the court, Murray seemed to glide around the court without a trace of effort. And somehow these contrasts speak volumes about who Murray will become, and equally about the projects that Andy must undertake.
Murray must learn to serve better. And I believe his coach is tinkering with the height of his toss, and his ability to move up and into the hit. But when it comes to movement, shot selection, point construction, and the ability to play with uncanny confidence off the ground, few players are as good as Murray, and there is every indication this guy will crack the top ten if not the top five quite soon.
Murray - Dangerous on the "Wings"
Roddick, under Connors' tutelage, now takes the net much more often.
In the early rounds, Roddick often volleyed for position, putting the ball deep in the corners looking to finish with a second volley or overhead. And when the opponent did not pass with pinpoint precision, this strategy worked just fine. But Murray is a lot like Federer in that he can hit the ball pretty much exactly where he wants to. And a position volleyer stands little chance against a pin point passer (as we clearly saw in the Australian Open semifinals when Federer reeled off 10 consecutive games against a guy who routinely delivers 140 mph plus serves).
But further, Roddick generally approaches crosscourt off his backhand, and Murray made him pay dearly for this tactic, forcing many forehand volley errors, as well as outright passes both up the line or angled wickedly back crosscourt. A little like Gonzalez, Roddick cups the under spin backhand ever so slightly, he does not crack it with pace or spin it heavily. Further, when turning to the backhand side, Roddick's two-handed preparation looks entirely different than his one handed preparation. Everyone has noted that his down the line backhand has improved, and indeed it has, but that occurs only on the two-hander. Murray apparently knows this, for it appeared Murray anticipated crosscourt nearly every time Roddick went to the backhand slice. And it is next to impossible to play someone who can read your mind.
Brad Gilbert has coached Roddick and now Murray, and knows both these guys games inside out. I was curious what Gilbert might have hypothetically advised Roddick about playing Murray, and posed this question to Gilbert's former college coach, mentor, and long time friend the legendary Tom Chivington of Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Chiv noted that Murray is tremendous off the wings, moves exceptionally well for his size, takes the wide serve and does something with it, and can come clear to the other side of the court and control the ball when scrambling. Further, he noted that Murray has an uncanny ability
to change directions, much like Chiv's former student Brad Gilbert.
Roddick generally approaches crosscourt
Gilbert were to have advised Roddick, Tom felt that because Murray is so quick, Roddick should play to the center of the court more often (something similar may have been employed against Michael Chang years ago). Further, he felt that Roddick would have to serve well, for in backcourt rallies Roddick would not come out on top as often. And going back to the match stats Roddick needed to improve his percentage on first serves, and his conversion rate on second serves. Neither of which he did in this match.
And more or less true to Chiv's word, in their following match-up in Memphis, Roddick bested Murray, by serving much better. Roddick said that he was a little more patient and a little less prone to take the net when Murray baited him with short under spin crosscourt backhands.
In San Jose Roddick took that ball to the net with his own suspect backhand, in Memphis he was more determined to stay back on that ball and hit it, presumably more often with his two handed drive. And as always, the stats tell the story. Roddick served much better, while Murray's serve did not carry the day, both in percentage (43%) and on the second serve (48% converted).
As of this writing, these two are on a collision course at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. To be sure there are obstacles standing in their way, still I look forward to more of this contrasting match-up. For the moment, let's keep an eye on this tough young Scotsman.
Still only 19 years old. Great feel for the game. Great coach at his side.
Fun to watch. But to play with the King, the kid will definitely need a better serve.
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