2008 US Open finalist Andy Murray is through to the second round of this year’s event. After his routine victory over Lukas Lacko in round one, Murray is now set to face Dustin Brown of Jamaica in the second.
Murray, one of the favorites to win this title based primarily on his win at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, is yet to win his first major. He’s known good results in New York, however, and this event presents one of his best chances to do so.
Here are five reasons why.
Is he the fastest player on the ATP Tour? It’s hard to say, since those at the top of the men’s game–Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Murray–are all immaculate movers, each with their own special distinctions.
Federer’s fine footwork allows him to dance around his opponent’s projectiles, slicing back shot after shot until one lands just short enough to skip left and club the forehand.
Nadal is unmatched in his ability to work from well behind the baseline, keeping the ball in play until it’s time to hit a pass or take the offensive.
Djokovic’s uncommon flexibility enables him to go on the offensive despite being on the full stretch.
What sets Murray apart is his anticipation; much like Martina Hingis in the 1990s, Murray’s court sense allows him to get that critical first step, and thus enables him to not only reach the ball but get there in time to do something with it.
“Something” may include driving a backhand deep, or showing off …
Among top 10 players, this is what really sets Murray apart.
The men’s game has primarily become dominated by precision serving and pummeled groundstrokes, but if Murray can match his opponent in those categories, he will then almost certainly surpass them with his creativity.
Whether it’s with his sudden changes in direction, his sharply angled drop shots or his fine feel around the net, Murray’s accuracy and placement are second to none.
His ability to keep opponents off-balance through deft drop shots and able volleying have been well-known since he pushed Nadal to five sets at the Australian Open in 2007. Since then, he has grown in size and power but his touch, rarely seen since the onset of high-tech rackets, remains his edge.
It’s also why those concerned about the overabundance of power in today’s tennis should cheer for him.
However, in today’s game, touch without power is a losing recipe. Murray has been derided in some cases for having a “weak” forehand and this, some believe, is why he hasn’t won a major yet.
Of course, labeling any shot by any top 20 player a “weakness” is an exercise in semantics these days: Nadal hits aces with his “weak” serve, Andy Roddick hits down the line winners with his “weak” backhand and Lleyton Hewitt can still keep opponents on the defensive despite lacking any shot that’s a “weapon.”
The case with Murray’s forehand, as with these other shots, it that it does not generate the consistent pace or spin that many of his contemporaries do and that occasionally has created difficulties for the Scot.
His overall game, however, is not lacking in puissance. His first serve regularly reaches the 130s and his backhand is simply the deadliest on tour at the moment (were David Nalbandian on top of his game, it’d be close).
Furthermore, his return may well be the best in the top 10 at the moment and this was critical in his win over Federer in Toronto.
Murray has put up solid results in this year’s majors, reaching the final of the Australian Open and the semis of Wimbledon. Even his worst result, a fourth round defeat against a hot Tomas Berdych at Roland Garros, is perfectly respectable.
But the best chances for Murray to win a major with his counter punching style will either be at the All-England Club, where his experience on grass gives him an edge, or in New York, where the court plays fastest.
On a slower surface, a counter puncher’s forehand can be targeted and broken down through repeated long points. On a faster surface, though, a player with as many options as Murray can keep it from becoming a brutal baseline battle.
It’s no coincidence that Lleyton Hewitt broke through in New York in 2001, and that Murray’s first slam final was there in 2008.
Murray is from the United Kingdom, the progenitors of “lawn tennis” who haven’t produced a male Grand Slam winner in more than 70 years.
Murray has therefore had a greater than average amount of pressure on him to win one ever since turning pro in 2005.
It’s only continued to build since that Open final in ’08. As he scored repeated victories over Federer in late ’08 and early ’09, the question seemed to be “When will he?” As The Great Swiss, and then Nadal, reasserted themselves and boxed Murray out of the majors, the query has gradually regressed to “Will he ever?”
But let’s be clear: Murray does have the game to win Slams with a little fortune on his side. The USO’s surface is favorable to his game and not having the pressure of being the native son may make such a win easier to achieve here than in Britain.
His draw’s not to bad either: In round three the (distant) No. 2 Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka looms, while in the fourth hard-serving American Sam Querrey or hard-hitting Spaniard Nicolas Almagro may stand in the way.
He’ll be overwhelmingly favored to get by them though, all the way to the semis and possibly encounter Nadal. Nadal is having one of his best years ever, having won both the RG and Wimbledon, but his summer hard court play has been less than inspiring.
Truth be told, anything less than a win here will be another disappointment; anything less than a final would be a surprise.
In his two major finals, Murray had the misfortune of running into Federer.
On neither occasion did he win a set.
Murray has beaten The Great Swiss seven of 12 times, a better record than anyone not named Rafa or Da-veed. Still, none of those wins came in majors, where the seven matches and the best-of-five format tends to accentuate Federer’s advantages, such as a heavier forehand and second serve that’s tougher to jump on.
Worst of all, Federer had slumped for most of the year but his Cincinnati win shows that he’s awoken just in time.
Should they meet in the final, Murray will need to play more aggressively than he did in Australia, play the big points as well as he did in Toronto, and hope that Federer doesn’t have a day as good as the one seen here.