Maybe Mom does know best. Andy Murray has had the most noteworthy August of his career, bulldozing the competition all over North America with a scintillating new game—and he may have his mom to thank.
Murray’s biggest weakness has always been an unwillingness to “hit out” on the big points. A superbly conditioned athlete with excellent size and tremendous endurance, Murray may play the best defensive tennis on earth—that includes Rafael Nadal. However the 23-year-old Scotsman, who is a master of surviving long rallies, has not shown Nadal’s machismo when it comes to seizing control of the match by dictating the action from the forehand wing.
That has changed to some degree during this year’s US Open Series, as Murray’s mother, Judy, has taken the coaching reins. After dropping coach of three years Miles Maclagan, Murray has teamed up with his mother (a former pro herself) and Spanish dirt-baller Alex Corretja.
Murray claims that he has no official coach—Corretja has not been attending Murray’s North American tournaments—but many are crediting his mom with his new approach.
Either way, the results have British fans in snaggletoothed smiles.
Murray has dominated the North American hard court circuit, recently winning decisively over Roger Federer in the final of the Rogers Masters Series Event in Toronto. Murray seized momentum early in the match and out-hit Federer throughout the contest, finishing each set with clutch break-holds to win (7-5, 7-5).
Murray has always been a pest for Federer because he, like the Swiss Master, likes to change tempos, angles, ball height and spins—and because he runs down just about everything. In this match, however, Murray showed a heartening proclivity to approach the net and hammered out a number of forehand winners that seemed to catch Federer off guard.
Oh yeah. Murray also pulverized a weary-looking Nadal in the semifinals, becoming just the fifth player ever to beat both Nadal and Federer in the same tournament. Murray also toasted the second hottest player this summer, David Nalbandian, a round earlier.
Although Murray’s burlier forehand from the middle off the court is the most eye-catching addition to his game, it’s really just a part of the story. Murray possesses quick, deft hands at the net and has been making a point of getting forward.
Usually his approach begins with his trademark two handed backhand, which he uses to overpower his opponent’s back hand wing and open up the court. This was especially effective against Federer, as Murray’s size, strength and anticipation allowed him to take Fed’s second serve in the backhand early.
Murray has typically had an abysmal tie-break record because of his propensity to play defensively—drifting to his counter-punching comfort zone. However, his new game has allowed him to play big points aggressively because his strategy for the entire match is to get forward.
This is a good sign for the US Open, which is the only major tournament with a fifth set tiebreaker.
The addition of Murray’s improved forehand to an already dizzying diversity of weapons has made Murray a favorite finally to win his first Grand Slam in Queens.
While he may lack the pure all court grace of Federer—his movement is more muscular but not as brutish as Nadal’s—Murray has nearly as many tools (it’s his serve, now, that's his biggest liability).
Until this summer, he struggled to put them all on display.
It’s been an up and down year for Murray, beginning with his second career Major Final at the 2010 Australian Open. After his collapse at the hands of Federer, Murray played an aimless few months, even admitting that his trademark mental doggedness had deserted him.
However, after bullying Federer in Toronto and with Nadal looking worn out, US Open stalwart Andy Roddick still working his game back into form following a bout with mononucleosis, and defending champ Juan Martin Del Potro out with a wrist injury, it may finally be time for Murray to become the first Brit since Fred Perry to win a major championship.
If he does break through it will be a great day for tennis fans around the world. Murray’s game represents the new direction that power baseline tennis has taken since the Federer Express began running down the competition.
Unlike baseline backboards like Leyton Hewitt and Nalbandian, who play to get it back until a short forehand appears, watching Murray produces the exhilarating feeling of not knowing what shot will come next.
It’s this dimension of unpredictability that his aggressive court positioning and shot-making enhance, and it’s one of his most constant supporters who’s inspired him to bring the heat.