Australian Open 2016: Thoughts on Murray vs Zverev

Australian Open 2016: First Round –  thoughts on Murray vs Zverev

Zverev came up short against Murray but still showed a lot of promise

Zverev came up short against Murray but still showed a lot of promise

As expected, the number 2 seed Andy Murray made quick work of Alexander Zverev, winning in straight sets, 6-1 6-2 6-3. Murray was rarely troubled during the 2 hour encounter, his young opponent only able to apply any kind of pressure on the Murray serve toward the tail-end of the match. While the match wasn’t of great interest as a contest, it did prove fascinating in another sense, as an opportunity to see the youngest player in the top 100 up against the world number 2. There probably isn’t a sterner test for a young player than a five setter against the consistent, cerebral Scot. Here are some notes from the match:

Zverev’s potential

While it is notoriously difficult to predict future stars in tennis – harder still now that players tend to peak in their mid to late twenties – Zverev seems a relative ‘lock’ for a berth in Top 10 at some point in his career. Zverev was an elite Junior, reaching number 1 in the rankings, and winning the 2014 Australian Open. While this is not necessarily a guarantee of success as a professional (cf. Donald Young), Zverev appears to have the basic tools to make the transition. Whereas others have dominated the Junior ranks by simply being more consistent and patient than their peers, Zverev already possesses the tools necessary to make a dent on the professional circuit.

Big serving

Crucially, Zverev possesses a great serve. The motion itself is a thing of beauty – deep knee bend, proper arching of the back, full extension on contact – and as such he already has incredible power on first and second delivery. Against Murray, the German hit 5 aces against Murray’s 3; had an average 1st serve speed of 126MPH to Murray’s 116MPH; and also produced the fastest serve of the match at 135MPH. One he learns to apply his power more efficiently, and hit his spots more carefully, the serve will become a devastating weapon.

Power off both wings

Simply turning up the volume and looking away from the TV for a few minutes would make clear that Zverev hits a huge ball. Particularly off the forehand wing, the youngster can generate a lot of easy power – the sound of the ball coming off the strings not so dissimilar to Marat Safin. One small concern would be the relative lack of variety of his backhand. While Zverev has a very solid topspin backhand in rallies, he runs into problems when stretched wide: against Murray, he didn’t seem able to hit a more looping, heavily spun shot, and nor did he appear to possess a great slice. The net result is that when pushed out wide, he does not have the variety on his backhand to slow the rally, in turn enabling him to recover position and re-set the rally. The young prospect could do worse than study some tapes of David Nalbandian in this respect.

Murray’s route to the Final

The first Grand Slam event of the calendar year, the Australian Open is said to always favour those who come in with the best preparation. It is therefore little surprise that Murray, one of the hardest workers on tour, has made the final on four occasions. The Scot has a notoriously gruelling training camp during the off-season, and always comes to Melbourne in great condition. This year appears no different, and Murray has the additional benefit of a relatively kind draw. Crucially, the number 3 seed Roger Federer was drawn in Djokovic’s half – if draw plays out according to seed, Murray will play the number 4 seed Stan Wawrinka in his semi-final. Otherwise, his half of the draw contains remarkably little threat. The highest seed in his quarter is David Ferrer, whom Murray has beaten on the last five occasions. Compare that to Djokovic, who has the dangerous Kei Nishikori in his quarter, or Federer, who will in all likelihood have to face either Berdych, Cilic or Krygios, should he make the Quarter Finals.

– TN

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Playing the Percentages: Two Key Points to the Murray Djokovic US Open Final

The Mens 2012 US Open Final: Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic

Murray’s first serve will be crucial

With Rafael Nadal pulling out through injury and Roger Federer knocked out in the Quarter Finals, it was always likely that the US Open final would feature Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Despite the latter being the reigning US Open champion and leading the head to head with Murray 8-6, all signs point to this match being an even, carefully balanced contest, which will be decided by a few key points.

The similarities between the two players are striking: born within a week of each other, they entered the top 100 together and reached the top 10 at roughly the same time. Both have won numerous Masters Series finals, made Grand Slam finals and generally done the most of any players on tour to disrupt the hegemony of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the top of the game.  Djokovic has five Grand Slam titles to his name, whereas Murray has four defeats in finals, picking up a lone set in an otherwise series of forgettable performances.

However, Murray has had a superb 2012, and has shown that he doesn’t fear Djokovic in the same way he did Roger Federer, when he seemed overwhelmed by the stature of the Swiss great in the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open Final. Murray should come out with plenty of belief, and there is a real chance of a classic final along the lines of their Australian Open encounter eight months ago, which finished 7-5 Djokovic in the fifth set. Here are two crucial factors which will decide tonight’s tie:

1. The First Serve % and the Return

Serve and return should be dealt with together as one entity when discussing a match up between players who return far better than they do serve.

In basic terms, Murray can hit his first serve considerably faster than Djokovic, but to the detriment of an poor first serve percentage. This is exacerbated by a weak second serve delivery, which opens the door for his opponents  to tee off on the return and put holes in Murray’s service games – and no one is better than Djokovic (at least since the retirement of Andre Agassi and the decline of Davydenko and Nalbandian) at hitting clean winners off opponent’s first serves.

If Muray serves well he will be able to keep Djokovic out of the majority of his service games (accounting for the occasional 130MPH down-the-T serve which Djokovic will invariably return back into the corner with added velocity). To do so, he will need to strike a fine balance between maintaining a healthy 60%+ first serve percentage without neutering the power of his serve. Murray serves best on the ad court, where he can get enormous pace on the out wide flat serve. It is on the deuce side where he struggles more; his slice serve is not one of the best, and his down-the-T serve can be inconsistent.

Djokovic on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the same ability to serve through Murray. He will probably be best off contuining his high first serve percentage strategy; rather than trying to ace the best returner in the game, he will hope to hit the corners of the service box and eleicit weak responses from Murray, which will be enough to put him on the front foot in the ensuing rally.

There is merit in the strategy of a high first serve percentage when playing Murray: no one in the game is better than the Scot at clawing back huge serves, and he is extremely difficult to ace. Djokovic therefore might be better off going for higher percentages on his first serve.

Djokovic has the superior 2nd serve but this is negated  by both mens outstanding returns. Getting the balance is key for both men. Murray will have to mix up his slice and T serve on the deuce court well enough to keep Djokovic guessing. Likewise, Novak may have to go for more on his first serves to ensure a few free points.

2. The forehand

Djokovic has fantastic rotation on his forehand, and generates considerably more topspin than Murray. This is partially aided by Djokovic having a more extreme grip. In theory Murray, with his more conservative semi-western grip, should find it easier to unleash flat forehand drives. However, he rarely opts to, and his forehand is certainly a weaker rallying shot compared to Djokovic’s.

Djokovic has a decided advantage in hitting the forehand from the ad court; while Murray has improved in this aspect, Djokovic has a superb inside out forehand, and his grip and motion seem more suited to hitting heavy inside out forehands. One area in which Murray has closed the gap is in the ‘inside-in’ forehand; previously he has been guilty of running around his backhand to hit a forehand up the line, not getting enough depth or pace on the shot, and leaving himself exposed cross court. With increased confidence on the forehand wing, he seems to have remedied this, hitting the shot with more conviction and power.

This match represents more of a challenge to Murray than his opponent; Djokovic will know that a repeat of his previous hard court Grand Slam performances against Murray will probably get the job done. For the Scot, he will have to serve smartly and well, and ensure that he hits his forehand with conviction.

– TN


Match Report: Murray vs Tipsarevic

Some points on a fascinating contest in the Quarter Finals of the Miami Masters Series between Andy Murray and Janko Tipsarevic, two of the most consistent baseliners on tour.

Tipsarevic is typical of the modern baseline player, one who has no stand-out weapon but relies on great lateral movement (witness the Serb’s monster quads and calves), a strong two handed backhand and unerring consistency off both sides. Tipsarevic’s best asset is his serve – standing at 5’11 (180cm), he gets not only impressive pace (hitting upward of 130MPH on his first serve), but fantastic angles owing to the full extension he gets on the service action, especially on his serve out-wide from the Ad-court.

Murray is almost the perfect foil to the modern generic baseliner, possessesing a variety of ways in which he can approach each encounter. He is adept at playing the patient baseline game, yet with enough power to seize the initiative in a rally when he feels it’s falling from his control. Furthermore, against a dogged opponent like Tipsarevic who feeds off rhythm, he can turn to his coniserable array of ‘touch’ shots to disrupt his opponent. He can knife his backhand slice in either direction, or float it in the middle of the court to invite his opponent to the net. His drop shot is another effective tool – he perhaps over-uses it, but gets away with it due to his great composure and finesse on both passing shots and when drawn to the net himself.

Tipsarevic largely had the best of things in the first set, and he broke Murray at 4-4 to serve out the set 6-4. Murray cut a frustrated figure; he had been broken out of sheer impatience, and afterwards was seen complaining about his stomach. As he does so many times though, the Scot came back strongly in the second set,  cutting out his unforced errors and showing his gritty determination to out-last Tipsarevic.

If ruthless consistency and dogged consistency were the two base ingredients needed to compete with Tipsarevic on the slow courts of Miami, Murray then added his own flourishes to take the match above and beyond the level of Tipsarevic. In addition to the aforementioned touch shots, he was also hitting his forehand impressively, particularly when he chose to run around his backhand to hit it.  He unleashed on some huge inside-out forehands, and hit his inside-in forehand with surprising consistency. He dominated his opponent in forehand to forehand rallies and forced Tipsarevic to go for too much, too soon in the rally. Murray proceeded to take the second set fairly comfortably, 6-3.

Murray also yielded some great results from the drop shot. As stated, he has a tendency to abuse the drop shot, but against a strict baseliner like Tipsarevic, it can be an extremely effective tactic. The real difference in quality between the two players was illustrated at 1-1 in the third set, the game in which Murray took a crucial break of serve. Serving at game point 40-30, Tipsarevic elected to hit his first drop shot of the match – Murray got to the ball with enough time to caress a backhand slice up the line, covered the net with typical nous, anticipated Tipsarevic’s pass and put away a volley winner. A simple combination of shots, but executed with a composure and class which is just above Tipsarevic’s ability.

As the third set progressed, it became increasingly evident that Tipsarevic had no solution to Murray’s relentless barrage of power, guile and physicality. As a result he had resolved to become the master of his own fate, going for broke on his shots very early on in the rallies. While he succeeded with an aggressive approach in the first set, by this point he had neither the consistency nor the confidence to hit through Murray’s resolute defences.  He also made the decision to hit a very high percentage of first serves, a curious move considering his opponent is perhaps the best returner of first serves in the men’s game.  Ultimately Murray’s momentum was not to be stopped, and he triumphed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

One area which Murray can still improve is his backhand down the line. For years he has been one of the best in the world at nailing his backhand down the line, causing havoc with his opponents rhythm by using it as a change of pace after a succession of slow, spinny shots. Curiously, he has started 2012 by improving his inside-out forehand but suffering an almost equal decline in his backhand down the line. If he can recall this world class shot, maintain a decent first serve percentage and keep a positive mental attitude, he has every chance of not only beating Nadal or Tsonga in the semi-finals, but winning his maiden Grand Slam in 2012.

– TN


‘A Beginners Guide to Tennis Betting, Part 1’: A Guest Post by Jonathan Premachandra

The first in a two-part beginners guide to tennis betting, written by gambling prodigy Jonathan Premachandra. Jonathan has an in-depth knowledge of sports betting, in particular tennis and cricket, and can be found on Twitter here.

A Beginners Guide to Tennis Betting

As a keen follower of the game, you may be tempted to have the odd bet every now and then just to make things more interesting. It can certainly make even some of the dullest matches more captivating and you barely need to risk much to enjoy it. The principles of tennis betting can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make them but if you really want maximize your winnings, here’s some advice on how to go about it. This can be used by anyone who follows tennis and is looking to take a bit of extra money off their bookies.

Research 

Coming into a game, unless you are just betting for the fun of it, it is obviously important that you know about the players and have been following their form coming into the match. Most betting sites give you a list of their past matches and information of their head-to-head record with basic stats on every match coming into this encounter. This is all very helpful but it is not nearly enough to call a game just based on these raw figures.

You need to have watched the previous encounters between these two players, seen how their styles match up against each other and seen how well they have actually been playing recently by watching their games in the run up to this match. Important things to pick up on vary from player to player but unforced errors, 1st serve percentages and winners hit are always crucial.

For an example of how these stats vary with each player you just need to look at the winning stats on players that rely heavily on their serve such as Isner, Roddick and Karlovic. There stats can often be misleading as they line up for a game against one of the top 7. We know that these ‘big servers’ can dispatch their opponents with ease until they play someone who is a very strong returner and has a lower rate of unforced errors like Murray or Nadal.

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” 

Past records can be very deceptive if you choose to follow them on their own, for example, take a look at the recent Federer v Murray final in Dubai. Coming into that game, Murray had a solid record against Federer in 3 set matches (8 wins vs 5 losses[1])

So with this lone stat, a price of 2.5 (6/4) for Murray to win another Dubai final against Federer (he beat him in the other Dubai final they met in back in 2008) looks pretty good. So surely that must mean it would be a great bet to take, right? Wrong. Murray was outplayed in straight sets inside two and a half-hours, showing nothing of the form he had used to oust Federer in the past. However, if you had been following the matches leading into this final you would have seen Federer in blistering form, while Murray, despite dispatching Djokovic in the Semi, was far from his best. His three set win against Djokovic was always going to have a draining effect on him and if you looked at the stats, you could see his first serve record was not great. The casual tennis fan rushed to bet on Murray after seeing those odds but if they had watched how Federer had dominated on his route the final, they would have known that those odds were justified (Federer was around 4/7 favourite at the start).

There are countless factors that you can look at such as a player’s abilities on a particular surface; their past records at the same tournament, their form in the last few tournaments etc. You can also factor in things like fatigue and injuries, just look at Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals last year, after such a successful calendar year, he was exhausted coming into the tournament. Nadal was suffering with an injury while Federer, who had taken a short break before the tournament was fresh and near his flawless best. Long story short, the bookies faltered and gave odds of 6/4 on Federer for the tournament just before the semi final stage, he then strolled past Ferrer in straights and won the final against Tsonga in a fairly comfortable 3 set victory and in doing so he helped me pay off a large chunk of my student overdraft!

These types of odds have to be spotted and you have to weigh up whether or not the bookies are making a mistake. In the case of the Dubai final, the odds were spot on as Federer took it fairly comfortably, but given the conditions of the other players and Federer’s form in the Masters, there was good money to be made on Federer at the half way stage.

JP

Look out for the second part in the next few weeks, which will deal the more lucrative in-play betting.

You can follow Jonny on Twitter here

– TN


[1] http://www.atpworldtour.com/Players/Head-To-Head.aspx?pId=F324&oId=MC10)


Video of the Week: the Andy Murray Forehand

Andy Murray, fresh from another so nearly moment in a Grand Slam semi final, has been the subject of continued debate over what exactly is lacking in his game to go all the way and win a Grand Slam. Chief among technical factors, the forehand has proven to be the shot which has been make or break for him in crucial encounters.

It is the forehand which has let him down one too many times in the big moments, most recently in his Grand Slam matches against Rafael Nadal. Conversely, on the six occasions when the Scot has triumphed in this match up, it was through good work on the forehand side. As a defensive shot it is brilliant, but Murray’s challenge against the other ‘big three’ of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer is not to play well defensively, but to take the initiative in rallies and then hit through their resolute defences.  It is the forehand down the line in particular which is vital to Murray; he hits his cross court forehand well enough, but too often it is predictable that the Scot will hit in this direction as he rarely opts for a decisive down the line strike.

This match between Nadal and Murray from back in 2011 shows the Scot’s forehand at its very best. Here, Murray is relaxed, confident and hardly afraid to go for huge, flat strikes. On occasion Murray can be guilty of tightening up when he hits the forehand; he doesn’t really open his shoulders and take a cut at the ball, nor take the ball that fraction earlier needed to get the angle for a down the line shot. Murray is often at his free-flowing best in situations where the pressure is off; either in matches against an opponent who has few weapons and he is expected to beat, or toward the end of matches where he has dominated and is clearly in control, like here. If he is to capture a Grand Slam title he will have to learn to release the shackles on his forehand when it really counts.


Reflection on the 2012 Australian Open: The Slow and Painful Death of Net Play

Thrilling. Epic. Extraordinary. Jaw-Dropping. Marathon Classic. For all the adjectives lavished on the Australian Open Final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, it escaped unnoticed that net play continues to be relegated to novelty status in men’s tennis.

Forays to the net have become increasingly rare in an era where serve-volley should be put on the ICUN’s list of endangered species. Of the four semi-finalists, Andy Murray and Roger Federer could be described as competent volleyers, but neither man enjoyed much success at the net in their respective semi-final. Federer suffered from his usual paralysis against Nadal and his awful choices of net approach precluded any sort of success there. Murray fared slightly better but largely was engaged in a colossal baseline match in which net approaches featured strictly as a means of mixing up play. David Nalbandian has shown in past meetings against Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal that there is a formula for coming to the net against the prototypical modern baseliner who has the deadly combination of vicious passing shots and tireless movement around the court.  First of all, Murray and Nadal both have great forehand passing shots which are arguably even more potent when they are on the run, meaning there is little safety in approaching to this side even when it seems they are dead and buried.

You might enjoy some success serve and volleying against Nadal, who stands way back for the return, but the Spaniard is capable of roasting you on the pass even from six or seven metres outside the court so it is not a regular play. Forget about frequent serve and volleys against Murray or Djokovic, both of whom have built their games around the return and their quick reactions. The backhand has proven more fruitful for net approaches – while both Nadal and Murray possess versatile two handed backhands which are formidable weapons for passing at the net,  Nalbandian was able to spot a chink in the armour – when both men are stretched far to their backhand side, they tend to make frequent use of the floated backhand slice in order to give them time to retain court position after they have been dragged out wide. It is here that Nalbandian in past meetings has taken advantage by sneaking into the net and putting away what is generally a quite comfortable volley.

This does not equate to a renaissance of net play – instead, is just a singular, specific net play which has been fruitful against top players, whereas in the past just chipping the return back and surging to the net was a viable play. Furthermore, to execute it requires four things of the player in question, the combination of which is very much a rarity on today’s tour.

  • The control and power of groundstrokes necessary to move the opponent around before striking hard to the backhand side and sneaking in.
  • An acceptance that this tactic can only be used sparingly, and even then that a spectacular passing shot might be coming your way.
  • Sound volleying technique is necessary if the ball is dipping below net height, although if the reply is a slice it will not be dipping violently. Due to the deep court positioning of many baseliners today, the drop volley has become increasingly popular and effective. Where many players fall down here is that even if a great volley is hit, the opponent may still get there so good net positioning and reactions are necessary for the second volley.
  • Most importantly, the tactical knowledge to envisage this plan and the clarity of mind to execute it.
The future of net play at professional level is not promising.

TN