Nov/10

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Is Murray Mature Enough To Master A Major?

Boris Becker has some advice for Andy Murray in his quest to win his first Grand Slam title — grow up.

The unseeded Becker was 17 when he beat Kevin Curren in the 1985 Wimbledon final to become the youngest man to win  major.  Becker believes the two-time Grand slam runner-up has the skills to win a Grand Slam title, but says the 23-year-old Murray must mature to master a major.

“At 23 Murray is not old. Some players mature younger. I matured younger. Ivan Lendl did not win his first Grand Slam until he was 25,” Becker told The Daily Record. “It depends on your personality. In many ways, I regard Murray as younger than 23 — like how close he is still attached to his mother, Judy. He has been pretty much with the same girlfriend for the past three or four years. That is something you don’t usually do when you are 23. That is something you do when you are 19 or 20.”

I agree that maturity is an issue in Murray’s game,  but for Becker to suggest the maternal influence is some sort of sign he’s too immature to break through is a bit of a reach in that it ignores the real issues that have held Murray back in his quest to master a major: it’s difficult for him to dictate play with his forehand against top opponents, when his first-serve percentage flounders at 50 percent his second serve, though improved is attack able for top players,  he is still prone to periods of passive play and he has appeared emotionally muted in some setbacks in major matches (his 2009 US Open loss to Marin Cilic and the 2010 US Open third-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka).

Since parting company with coach Miles Maclagan after Wimbledon, Murray has played without a coach. He beat David Nalbandian, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in succession to capture the Rogers Cup in Toronto before bombing out of the US Open in a third-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka. Murray bounced back to beat Federer in the Shanghai final and the third seed appears to be on a collision course with Federer for a Saturday semifinal in Paris this weekend.

Cilic served for the first set against Murray today but tightened considerably and dropped serve. He raced out to a 4-0 lead in the tie breaker only to see his forehand fail him as three consecutive forehand errors allow Murray back into the breaker before Cilic committed two more forehand errors to close a sloppy tie break in a 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-3 Murray win.

Jimmy Connors and Martina Hingis are two Grand Slam champions whose mothers played an important role in their development. Connors’ mother Gloria, and his grandmother, taught him to play, his mother was a frequent presence at his matches and he once told me “I play a woman’s style of game because of the way my mom taught me which was take the racket straight back and drive through the ball.”  Hingis’ mother, Melanie Molitor, was her first coach and still coaches today.  Marat Safin’s mother, Rauza Islanova, taught both her son and daughter tennis, coached Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina when they were growing up in Moscow and was an influential designer of the Russian game.

But Becker suggests Murray may lean on mother Judy Murray a bit too much.

“Maybe he is maturing a bit slower and that shows on the tennis court,” Becker told The Record.  “The family set-up he has is not a bad thing but it is something a person does who is not 100 percent on his own feet and on the court, you are by yourself. On important points you cannot ask anyone what to do. You have to be convinced yourself what is right. That is called maturity. I find he still hasn’t matured enough yet to be able to make the right decisions in a Grand Slam.”

Another reason for the roadblock that’s halted Murray’s Grand Slam title drive may be a bit simpler: he has not been as good as Nadal and Federer in recent major meetings.  Federer played bolder tennis in beating Murray in the Australian Open final in January, a loss that reduced the lankly Scot to tears, and Nadal outclassed him in the Wimbledon semifinals in July.

As men’s tennis has become virtually an exclusive baseline game, the forehand has become one of the most important shots in the sport and Murray’s forehand is not nearly as lethal as Federer or Nadal, but his two-handed backhand is one of the best in the game and other men have won majors with backhands more reliable than their forehands (Agassi, Safin, Gaston Gaudio and Thomas Johansson to name four). Murray can get a bit predictable on his forehand — he nearly always plays the forehand pass crosscourt and is not as comfortable taking the forehand down the line — and often looks more comfortable generating racket-head speed hitting the forehand on the run rather than setting his feet and hitting through it, but the larger issue is does Murray have a go-to shot or pattern he can play when he needs a point?

Put Nadal in a must-win situation on a single point and he almost always puts the first serve in and pummels his lefty forehand crosscourt to corner the opponent. When Federer needs a point he can dictate and change direction effectively with his forehand. What is Murray’s go-to play?

Murray’s strength is his ability to adapt. He recognizes what makes opponents uncomfortable and is adept at coercing them into hitting awkward shots from uncomfortable positions on court: he puts you in places you don’t want to be hitting shots you are necessarily comfortable hitting and he’s one of the best hard-court returners in the game.

If Murray is to breakthrough and win a major, he must bring clarity and a willingness to use his speed offensively to  impose his game on pivotal points. The encouraging news is Murray has shown a willingness to attack in Paris this week and tomorrow he takes on an the acrobatic Gael Monfils, who tends to play an even more defensive, chase and counter game than Murray when the going gets tough. It will be interesting to see how Murray, who has never lost to Monfils on a hard court, approaches that match-up.

Federer has looked sharp in claiming successive tournament titles in Basel and Stockholm and the top-seeded Swiss has not dropped serve in hammering Richard Gasquet yesterday and Radek Stepanek today.

Federer has never reached the Paris Indoors final — the only Masters 1000 event where he’s yet to reach the final — and Murray has beaten Federer in the finals of Toronto and Shanghai, which makes a potential Saturday semifinal showdown even more enticing.

The 2008 US Open finalist said he’s enjoying the coachless flight for now. His mother  was in his box in Toronto and has served as a surrogate coach and sounding board for her son.

“In some ways it’s nice not to have a coach for a while. I have more responsibility to figure out a few things by myself on court,” Murray said. “But there is a lot more freedom in some ways. After having a coach for two or three years, it’s nice to be on your own.”

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17 comments

  • Dan Markowitz · November 12, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Murray is talking a lot of bunk about not having a coach gives him more autonomy. He still has a couple of guys from his group traveling with him. It’s not like he’s going solo.

    I don’t know if it’s a maturity issue with Murray not winning a Slam. He’s shown he can beat Federer and Nadal, but only in best of three set matches. It could be a forehand issue or what I think it is is that he is not a big match player. In the biggest matches, he doesn’t play his best tennis. That’s why I think its going to be awfully hard for him to win a slam.

  • Mitch · November 12, 2010 at 3:34 am

    Murray has beaten Nadal in both of his final runs, and played good tennis to do it. It’s only a matter of time and luck before he bags one.

    I would argue that Djokovic is really no more mature, but he got lucky and won Australia in 2008. I think the better question is which of the two will win a grand slam next?

  • Andrew Miller · November 12, 2010 at 4:40 am

    I feel if Murray keeps putting himself in Slam finals he’s got a shot to win. Now he’s gotten to two hardcourt slam finals (a five slam gap between one and the next, but only 3 hard court slam gap) and within a shot of the Wimby final two years running – no slouch performances there. He seems fit as a fiddle – that pre-req is taken care of, and, perhaps more importantly, he’s a smart player who can take the measure of another player. Nadal and Federer do this – so if Murray also does this (which he does) then I dont see how he doesnt have the goods to hoist a trophy once he’s back in a slam final.

    It could happen. I’d say Murray has a better chance than Roddick of hoisting a slam trophy these days, and even money with Djokovic. Nadal, Federer because he’s been there, then Murray-Djokovic tied at chances to win the next four slams. Even if Federer only made one of this year’s four slam finals (and has his chances at two of them), non-Nadal slam finalists went through Federer to get there.

    2011 could show tons of surprises. But one of them shouldnt be Murray coming up with the goods.

  • Sakhi · November 12, 2010 at 4:45 am

    I agree with your analysis that Becker was probably smoking something when he made those comments. And that rubbish about only having one girlfriend. Sigh. This from the chap who had sex with a model in a closet! And, ahem, didn’t Federer get together with Mirka before he was a big bad champ!

    Also, I actually don’t think that all of Murray’s woes have to do solely with his passive play, or low serving percentages etc…. I think more vulgarly put–he’s a bloody whinger! He simply doesn’t have the mental fortitude to win big events because his mode of comfort is to whine endlessly about everything —I mean, when was the last time you saw him look as if he was enjoying tennis? I know we are supposed to speak highly of his natural talents etc. but I can’t support a tennis player who looks so miserable playing tennis. Johnny Mac may have been rude and crude but he clearly died by the wave of his racket.

    So, unless someone injects Murray with a dose of positive energy, he’s never going to win a Slam!

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Sakhi:
    Funny response 🙂 I hear what you’re saying but there have been times where I’ve seen the positive side of Murray. When he beat Wawrinka in 5 in the Wimbledon evening match he was really riding the crowd emotion in a positive way, when he beat Roddick at Wimbledon, when he beat Del Po at the US Open, when he beat Nadal at the US Open.
    Yes, he does tend to whine and you look at those major matches he’s lost in recent years and in many cases he’s whined or looked to lack fire. But I guess one positive by product of not having a coach is he doesn’t have a verbal punching bag on court (as he used to cream at Gilbert) and he doesn’t seem to scream at his hand as he used to do. A few times yesterday the French fans were booing him (he hit a ball at the net in frustration after dropping serve, the ball bounce back and hit a ball kid) and he seemed to respond to that). I hope both Federer and Murray win today because I think that semifinal could be quite special and Fed will not want to lose to him in 3 consecutive Masters events.
    I would be surprised if Murray does not beat Monfils today, but then Monfils saved 2 match points vs. Verdasco yesterday and obviously has a lot to play for as the ’09 Paris runner-up. Will be interesting to see how Murray responds to the crowd today as certainly they will all be for Monfils.
    I think Murray is too good not to break through and win a major (eventually) but as his game is presently built can’t see him beating Nadal or Federer in a major final at this point.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Murray will definitely win a slam. He has all the qualities to do it, the only problem is the misfortune of having to get by the two greatest champions in the history of the sport Nadal and Federer. It’s been very very frustating for Murray to run into a prime Federer in his two finals. Look, Federer beat Philippousis in his first slam final, Nadal beat Puerta. That’s kind of lucky. Murray was unlucky but his time will surely come. I don’t really see a whiny individual like Sakhi does. I see a great comepetitor and talent in Murray who overcame earlier physical frailty and is now as physically strong and fit as anyone on the Tour. Becker was off the target with those comments that it’s immature to have a steady friendgirl. Becker would not have won slams as a teenager if he had to play Federer or Nadal in his first finals. Gonna tell you all right now, Murray will win majors and those days are coming soon. If he doesn’t happen by 2015, I’ll take ya’ll for some Polish food in NJ!
    Welcome to the site Mitch.

  • tom michael · November 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    The best Murray could do at this point are stay injury free, continue training hard, compete positively, try to improve year by year, and enjoy every second he can on the court. What more can he or his fans ask of him?

    And to Scoop. You said that you would take all of us out for Polish Food if Murray does not win a major by 2015. I never ate it before, and personally am afraid to try. Most Eastern Europeans do not like their own cooking. Please reassure me that Polish food is something to look forward to.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Mitch:
    That’s a good question. Djokovic has been pretty consistent this year with 15 quarterfinals to his credit and obviously a huge win to save two match points with the two forehand winners vs. Federer in the US Open final and I felt Djokovic competed very hard vs. Nadal in the final. If Djokovic leads Serbia to the Davis Cup title I think that could really empower him for 2011. On the other hand, Djokovic’s breathing issues and stamina (though to be fair he’s almost always among the leaders in matches played) have been suspect in the past and you have to wonder how playing into December this year will affect him next year.
    WAtched the match yesterday and Djokovic played a good solid match, Llodra just played brilliant tennis from the tiebreak through the rest of the first set.
    You’re right: That is a good question. Will Djokovic win his 2nd major before Murray wins his first? IF they met in a major final on hard court – the best surface for both – who would win?
    It’s a good question because early on their rivalry, Djokovic dominated Murray winning like 4 in a row, I think. But Murray has won the last 3 times and 2 of those have been in finals (Miami and Cincy).
    It’s a good question – will have to give that one some more thought.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 12, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Tom, I hosted my old high school buddies last year for Polish food and they all really enjoyed it, especially the ones who were having it for the first time. Pierogies are very good, everyone likes them. The tennisball soup is also quite good as an appetizer.

    Murray vs. Djokovic would be a very exciting final. Could really see being an epic five setter.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    In the spirit of Scoop’s generosity: When Ana Ivanovic wins another major title, I will host the group for some Italian food (the only food I can cook) and if we ever get the group together for another Tennis-Prose.com doubles match will bring some holiday beverages (for those not driving of course). I don’t think I’ve ever eaten Polish food (don’t eat meat and I thought it was primarily meat-based?) but would be fun to try it out.
    I like Davydenko over Llodra as their match in Paris is starting now.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Scoop,

    You cannot be serious! Becker wasn’t a better player at Wimbledon than Federer and Nadal? I’ll posit Becker was the fourth greatest player at the Big W behind Sampras, Borg, and McEnroe.

    Also, Polish food is pretty good. Good borscht is a real treat, I think blintzes are also Polish food. Some good places in the lower East Side don’t have to go all the way out to Joisey.

    And I wouldn’t dismiss Becker’s comments. There is a lack of maturity on Murray’s side. What did his girlfriend say when she broke up with him–before they got back together (also, in my mind, Kim Sears, is the best looking of all player’s significant others, although a look at Llorda’s wife today and I might change my mind)–she broke up with him because he was always playing video games.

  • Sakhi · November 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Alas, an an Indian and as a vegetarian, and having had the pleasure of spending a month in Warsaw last year, I have to confess the pleasures of Polish food will have to be foregone. And not just because of the meatiness of it all, because MURRAY IS NEVER GOING TO WIN A SLAM! we have a pool going here at my tennis club as well and the vote is very much tilted that way too. but then that’s what makes sports interesting,no?

    I agree with all the positive comments about how much Murray has overcome but my hesitations still hold. Until I see evidence of grim determination in a SLAM and not just the Masters’, I’m not caving in to the more expert knowledge on this blog! For example, I think it’s interested that given all the hype about how fit Murray is, the last few times he’s lost at the Slams, he’s looked tired, fatigued and quite frankly the less fit of the players on the court (pace the Wawrinka debacle at the U.S. open here).

  • Andrew Miller · November 13, 2010 at 4:26 am

    If Andy Roddick wins Wimbledon I will buy Pizza for everyone. If Flavia Pennetta makes a Slam final I will buy pizza for everyone. If Maria Kirilenko makes a Slam final I will buy pizza AND soda for everyone. If Flavia Pennetta and Maria Kirilenko face off in a singles Slam final, I will buy pizza, soda and ice cream for everyone.

    Neither of the above will happen. But if they do, even though they won’t, I will keep my word! I can spot $50. that’s pretty much my limit on splurge generosity.

  • Andrew Miller · November 13, 2010 at 4:28 am

    If Baghdatis wins a grand slam, I will also buy pizza for everyone. Two slice limit!

  • vinko · November 13, 2010 at 4:34 am

    What’s Boris doing calling someone else immature? As mentioned earlier, didn’t Boris impregnate a woman in a broom closet? At least Andy Murray’s vice is just an overdose of angry birds.

    When we have that pizza party after Andy Roddick wins Wimbledon I recommend Pepe’s in New Haven.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 13, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Pepe’s, absolutely, Vinko, now you’re talking. In the summertime, there’s a line out the door for that place. Too bad they’ve made New Haven a women’s-only tournament starting next year. It was a good event to see top male players up close. But it was situated during qualis week so not good timing. It’s starting to dwindle in the East where you can see quality tennis. Washington D.C. is a nice event. I love Newport, R.I. and then there’s the Open.

    Amazing, isn’t it? We used to have Vermont and New Jersey events. There used to be one in the suburbs of Boston, Philadelphia, now all these events have gone by the wayside. Of course, I used to go to every year, covered it many times, the year-ending Masters event at Madison Square Garden, and then there was the Tournament of Champions at Forest Hills. Even the Challenger events have disappeared from the Bronx and Forest Hills and the seniors events that used to be held in Westchester County have disappeared.

    The trade off is now we can watch every round of Wimbledon or the Australian Open on television or smaller events like the Masters event in Paris this week. But I always say to people who live in New York and root for, say, the Dallas Cowboys, “How can you root for a team you don’t get to see play live?” If the Yankees and the Mets only played two weeks of the year in New York, how popular do you think baseball would be here?

  • vinko · November 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Here’s one of my favorite New Haven tennis memory. Back in the 90s they had a match scheduled between Agassi and Lendl. They played a few games and then the rain began. They kept everyone there in hopes that it would stop but it didn’t. The broadcast crew was Fred Stolle and Joel Meyers (I think he does LA Clippers and college football now). They came out of the booth and asked the crowd where they should go to eat in New Haven. The answer from the crowd was immediate-Pepe’s. Someone gave them directions and off they went.

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