Murray has made his name, often consistently camped three feet behind the baseline, counter punching his opponents with his wicked consistency and variety of shot over the past few years, helping him to rise to the giddy heights of number 3 in the world, yet the Grand Slams have remained stubbornly elusive. Since the beginning of 2010, it’s not just his image that’s had a radical revolution (he recently signed a lucrative deal with Adidas replacing his often mismatched Fred Perry wear), his approach has changed too.
Far too often Murray has played the waiting game, drawing his opponents into long grueling rallies and reacting to shots with his exquisite intuition to sucker punch his way to victory. But, as Pat Cash rightly noted of Murray in his article for the Sunday Times dated January 17th, ‘he is a potential Grand Slam champion but too often he has fallen short because he preferred to be reactive rather than proactive.’ However, like me, Cash has noticed a distinct change of direction in Murray’s game, noting his movement forward onto the baseline and sometimes even stepping aggressively inside the baseline during his devastating demolition of Andreev in the Hopman Cup competition. Cash congratulated Murray after the game, saying ‘Good on you, mate. You have finally played the way I want to see you playing and if you keep going that way, I am sure you will be a Grand Slam Champion’.
Murray opened his account at the Australian Open last night with an emphatic victory over the 6’8” South African qualifier, Kevin Anderson, 6-1, 6-1,6-2 in a swift hour and 37 minutes. Although the first week of a grand slam is all about playing within yourself and conserving energy, while the storm raged impressively on the outside courts, I was pleased to see Murray continuing his ‘cat and mouse’ approach, with Murray as the cat, toying with his lanky and often awkward opponent with ease – his vibrant blue and yellow Adidas shirt hardly displaying a hint of sweat throughout the three sets. Interestingly, Murray had been criticized for his decision to play the Hopman Cup as his preparation for the Open, but shrewd as ever, ironically the indoor conditions in his first round match at the Open were almost identical to those at the Hopman Cup, not even allowing his opponent the weather on his side.
His opponent hadn’t dropped a service game in the three qualifying matches he had won en route to his match up with Murray, nevertheless after a convincing game to love in the opening service game, Murray ruthlessly ruined Anderson’s unbeaten record, breaking him in the second game with his instinctive returning and aggressive play. There were very few of the long rallies for the Australian crowd to get their teeth into, which we have long learnt to associate with Murray, but they must have been impressed with the way he controlled the pace of the match with skill like a puppeteer, he had us all on a string.
The only low point being his first serve percentage, which disappointingly stood around the mid thirties and the lack of velocity and bite on his second serve averaging around 80-85mph which could cause him problems against a more challenging opponent. However, on the plus side, it was fantastic to see his more relaxed and jovial manner from the Hopman Cup continue in his post match interview, with the crowd reacting accordingly.
In the second round, he will meet either Marc Gicquel of France or Simone Bolelli of Italy and it remains to be seen whether Murray will be brave enough to continue his offensive play further into the tournament.