Wimbledon 2010: Andy Murray's Opportunity

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Wimbledon 2010: Andy Murray's Opportunity
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Andy Murray has everything a counterpuncher needs: speed, consistency, feel, and intelligence.

Plus, standing 6’3”, Wimbledon’s fourth seed has a couple of things that even the game’s best counterpunchers—from Bjorn Borg to Mats Wilander to Lleyton Hewitt—didn’t have. Those guys had to serve clutch and take care of their volleys when they came to net, but it was asking a lot of any of them to reach 130 mph regularly while serving. What’s more, being 190 centimeters in height, Murray enjoys more reach at net than they ever had.

Gilles Simon, Murray’s third round opponent, knows a thing or two about the strengths and drawbacks of the counterpuncher’s game. It’s the style of play that took him as high as No. 6 in the world at the start of 2009 and has netted him six career titles. Lacking the enormous serving or huge forehand required to bully opponents, though, his results have been erratic of late and he entered Wimbledon seeded at No. 26.

He counterpunched his way to a third-round meeting with the big Scot, but standing 5’11”, soon found that Murray could do everything he could, and then some.

Murray hit 15 aces to Simon’s two, and won 83 percent of first serve points to the Frenchman’s 65. The Scot’s height also gave him a trajectory advantage, enabling him to put 65 percent of his first serves in play to Simon’s 54. Murray’s average first serve speed was 120 mph, five faster than Simon’s and 11 more than Hewitt managed in his third round win over Gael Monfils.

In matchup of two rock-solid groundstrokers, Murray’s serving (and volleying) advantages took the pressure off his backcourt game, allowing him to sweep to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Of all of Wimbledon’s top five seeds—the others being Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick—Murray is the only one to enter the second week at Wimbledon without dropping a set.

It gets harder from here, but he will be the overwhelming favorite against the even bigger—and even bigger-serving—American Sam Querrey, who is putting together a nice year but doesn’t have the complete game or the court coverage of Murray. Furthermore, Querrey labored in his last match with Xavier Malisse, and certainly won’t be the fresher of the two.

Should he reach the quarterfinals Murray should face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, who is expected to overcome compatriot Julian Benneteau in the fourth. Tsonga has the artillery hurt anyone, especially off his forehand wing. Unless he can recapture the form that took him to the 2008 Australian Open final, however, he’d probably be at a loss against the Scot in long rallies.

It’s in the semifinals that things become really interesting. The highest seed in Murray’s half of the draw is Nadal, fresh off a clay season of unprecedented success. The Spaniard, though, has struggled in the last two rounds, pushed to five sets against Robin Haase and Philipp Petzschner.

Nadal should still get past Paul-Henri Mathieu—a good power baseliner unfortunately born in an era full of good power baseliners—but beyond that lurks nemesis Robin Soderling, who hasn’t lost a set. Accounts vary as to whether or not Nadal’s struggles are due to lapse in form (and injury) or the high quality of his opponents’ play, but there’s no question that Soderling has the potential to beat him.   

For Murray, the semifinals will be the test. The Scot’s game is more varied than either the Spaniard or the Swede’s, but Soderling is serving even bigger at the moment, while Nadal defends about as well. Furthermore, both of these guys can do the one thing Murray can’t: completely dominate off the forehand wing.

In the semifinals, it will take all of the Scot’s game to overcome that disadvantage.

That said, this is as good a chance as Murray has ever had to win his first major. On the opposite side of the draw, Federer has not appeared in top shape and has faced stern challenges early. Djokovic has looked better with each match, but faces an enormous challenge from the resurgent Hewitt.

Hewitt, like Roddick, has been to the final stages of a major and beyond, but Murray has winning records against both and more options than either. If his current form persists, the opportunity is ripe for him enter his first Wimbledon final.

As Federer is nearly six years older and Nadal’s knees continue to ache, this shouldn’t be the last opportunity for Murray to bag his first major, but he shouldn’t risk it. If it’s still possible to counterpunch one’s way to Grand Slam glory, it will be Murray who does so, and he can do so here.

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