Andy Murray: Can He Pull a 'Novak Djokovic' in 2012?
Not so anymore.
King Djokovic has usurped both Federer and Nadal and sits alone at the top of men's tennis.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray just won his third title of the year in Bangkok, routing American Donald Young in the final, but still remains the world No. 4.
While Djokovic has had a year for the ages, Murray has put together a decent year on his own. For instance, he's had his strongest year in the Grand Slams ever having lost three semifinals to Rafael Nadal and one final to Novak Djokovic.
Compared to Djokovic however, this looks mediocre.
The 24-year-old Brit is routinely called "the best man never to win a slam." Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have all said that it is only a matter of time before Murray wins a slam, as he's too good not to.
At 24, Murray should be at his physical peak. The problem for Murray is that winning a slam doesn't happen without beating Djokovic, Nadal or Federer and most often two of them.
The second problem is that the big four from time to time looks more like the big two or even just the big one. Murray hasn't played Federer this year, trails Djokovic 1-2 (winning while Djokovic retired) and has lost all four matches against Nadal this year, three of them in a slam semifinal.
But the issue here is not merely winning one slam, hard as it can be.
It is whether Andy Murray can transform himself from a serious contender to a favourite—or make the leap from being a steady top-four player to the best or second best player in the world (i.e. I'm not asking whether he can pull a 64-3 season, but whether he can take his game to the next level).
At the end of last season, everything seemed almost as it has been for the greater part of the last decade. Nadal had had a superb stretch from April to October, winning everything that mattered, while Federer had won the Australian Open and the world tour finals.
In other words, Fedal had shared the five most important titles between them and when asked post the world tour finals whether the difference between Nadal and Federer versus the rest had increased, Federer answered, "possibly."
Prior to the US Open, I read this Shark bite that shows how Novak Djokovic has improved in every single category from 2010 to 2011.
Andy Murray neither has a semifinal win over Federer (or Nadal for that matter, he seems destined only to meet Federer in the final) nor an upcoming Davis Cup final that can propel him forward like it apparently did to Djokovic.
What he does have is the opportunity to finish third in the year-end-ranking for the first time ever, which should give him a confidence boost. And if he can either manage to win the WTF or score a big semifinal win (and not go down meekly in the final) that could act as the necessary confidence boost.
What he shares with Djokovic 2010 stats-wise is a glaring inability to hold serve as often as can be desired. That and a world class return-game.
To be specific, Murray ranks in the top four of every return game category from first and second serve points won over break points converted to the most important one: return games won.
Here, he's third after Djokovic and Rafa, but winning the same percentage as Rafa (both 36 percent vs Djokovic's 41 percent. Djokovic 'only' won 34 percent in 2010).
Winning a decent amount of return games will only help you if you can win on your own serve as well. And in this aspect, Murray is not a world class player. Nor was Djokovic in 2010.
Murray ranks 12th on the most aces list, just behind Federer, which shows that his serve in principal is a world class shot. But his first serve percentage, 59 percent, is only good enough for the 40th position on the ATP rank (Nadal at 67 percent, Djokovic at 66 and Federer at 64 are all in the top-12).
At 74 percent, he's a decent No. 20 with regards to first serve points won (Djoko is 19th and Nadal is 24th, while Federer is 1st). However, he's an awful 47th with 49 percent won on second serve (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic tops the list with 57, 56, 56 percent respectively).
This stat wouldn't so as bad, if he had a higher first serve percentage. But given the fact that he's already got a low first serve percentage, his second serve is simply not good enough.
This shows in service games won, where he's 28th at 79 percent (Federer is 2nd (89 percent), Djokovic is 6th (87 percent) and Nadal is 16th (83 percent).
Now, while those numbers aren't good enough, they're not that far off Djokovic' 2010 stats. First serve points won: Murray 74 percent vs Djokovic 70 percent. Second serve: 49 vs. 50 percent. Service games won: 79 vs 80 percent.
Is there anything intrinsically preventing Murray from having a better second serve and a higher first serve percentage? By all means: no. At 6'3, he's the tallest member of the big four, which should aid him. And as we've seen, he's equal with Federer ace-wise.
Murray needs to take a good and long look at getting that first serve in more often and getting the second in with more bite.
So, if Murray can raise this one stat, service games held, in a similar fashion as Djokovic has done, will he have a Djokovic 2011 year?
Not necessarily, as there are many more intangibles in tennis than one single element. For starters, Murray is the least aggressive of the big four and often comes up short when he faces them precisely for that reason.
He's got by far the worst forehand of the big four. But he can hit it big and could conceivably train himself to do so more often. If we again compare with Djokovic 2010, his forehand wasn't as big as it's been this year (though still better than Murray's).
While Djokovic has always been the more offensive of the two, he's certainly become even more so this year. Can't Murray follow his lead?
Finally, Murray is often, rightfully, criticized for his bad temper, body language and resulting lack of belief and fight. Again, Djokovic was no role model in this respect (he is now), but there are signs that Murray is aware of the problem and is trying to deal with it.
Andy Murray is in his physical prime and he is an immensely talented tennis player. If he can get his head straight, his first serve in, improve his second serve and go for his shots when playing the big-three, there's no reason for him to continue to be known as "the best man never to win a slam."
The multi-slam potential is there. It's about time to release it and challenge Djokovic and Nadal for the top rankings.
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