Andy Murray is facing an uphill battle in his journey to defend his title at the 2014 Miami Masters.
The world No. 6 is slowly making his way back from back surgery last fall and has yet to reach a tournament final in 2014, let alone win a singles title.
A coaching change and a tough draw at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis this March has only compounded Murray's problem and are sure to present unique challenges. With Murray's title defense set to begin, let's take a closer look at his biggest keys to success in South Florida.
Focus on the Now
With so much going on around Murray off the court this spring, his focus and ability to zero-in on the task at hand round after round will be the biggest key of all to his success.
Ivan Lendl's departure is sure to shake things up, given the strides Murray made in two-plus years with the former world No. 1 in his corner. But if the Scotsman can continue to implement the tactics he developed under Lendl's watchful eye, he has the athleticism and talent to beat anyone, per the Associated Press via ESPN.com:
I'm eternally grateful to Ivan for all his hard work over the past two years, the most successful of my career so far. As a team, we've learned a lot and it will definitely be of benefit in the future. I'll take some time with the team to consider the next steps and how we progress from here.
With a difficult draw ahead, Murray doesn't have time to dwell on recent failures at Indian Wells, Acapulco, Rotterdam, Melbourne and Doha. With a handful of Masters 1000 tournaments ahead and three majors left to play in 2014, there's plenty of hope for a strong finish.
If Murray can't lock in, the doubts will start to creep in and his game will reflect them.
Although much easier said than done, Murray must start fast in the opening rounds in Miami this March in order to build confidence and preserve his body for more demanding opponents.
At Indian Wells, Murray started slowly in each of his opening-round victories over Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely, dropping the first set before going on to win in three. He would eventually lose to Milos Raonic in the fourth round.
In Miami, Murray will need to match his opponent's energy and intensity and avoid having a letdown. He led 3-0 in the opening set against Vesely and was in complete control, but he let his foot off the gas and wound up dropping the set in a tiebreak, per tennis writer Erik Gudris:
Commiserations for all those who watched the entire Murray/Vesely match. My thoughts are with you at this time. #BNPPO14— Erik Gudris (@ATNtennis) March 10, 2014
Therefore, the key for Murray will be picking his spots early. If he's dictating points and in control, there's no need to take unnecessary risks or do anything that could possibly shift momentum to the other side of the net.
However, against elite opponents and in certain situations, Murray will have to work a lot harder to start fast, which leads us to the final key.
Take More Chances
Although Murray is in good enough form to get past the opening rounds, he'll need to take some risks in order to escape potential showdowns with the other three members of the Big Four.
After all, the No. 6 seed could see No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Roger Federer in the semifinals and No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the final if chalk holds up, per SI's Beyond the Baseline:
To defend his title, Andy Murray could have to go through Djokovic QF, Federer SF, and Nadal F. That seems less than ideal. #sonyopentennis— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 17, 2014
Whether it's going bigger on the serve or forcing opponents to come to the net, Murray will have to take chances and mix things up in order to overcome the game's best while he continues to work his way back into peak physical shape.
Murray's forehand has become a huge weapon for him since Lendl's arrival in 2012 and was dangerous a year ago at this tournament. If he can unleash it at the right time, he'll have plenty of opportunities for winners, which he'll need to successfully defend his title.
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