One the of the cagiest players on the planet, Andy Murray, took the gloves off and imitated his boxing hero Roger Mayweather to knock out Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-1 6-4 6-4 in the second round.
A player who loves to coax his opponents into mistakes, the two-time Australian Open finalist nailed 41 winners, including nine aces, 16 forehand winners (which is considered his weaker side) and won 14 out of 19 points at the net. His unforced error count was low at 19, especially compared to his foe’s 33.
“It was just very, very lively,” said Murray, who will face the left-handed French serve-and-volleyer Michael Llodra in the next round. “I hit the ball better tonight. Probably eight or nine of them were volleys up at the net. Won quite a few points coming forward knocking volleys off. Because I served well, I set the point up with my first serve pretty well. Got quite a few short replies off of that. Served a few aces too. That was probably why I hit more winners. The unforced errors were down – 90 per cent, 95 per cent of the time, the guy who hits the least unforced errors wins the match. That's important as well.”
That's one of the reasons why Murray reached the 2011 Australian final, where he fell to Novak Djokovic, as well as the semifinals of three other majors last year. Another is that he is one of the smartest players on the planet. While many young players talk the term “I need to be more aggressive” into the ground, Murray does not
believe that straight-up ball bashing is the way to win matches. It does not fit his winning profile, or really, any of the members of the men’s circuit so-called Big Four.
“You want to be able to play the match on your terms,” Murray said. “There's more than one way of doing that. It's not like just going out and hitting the ball as hard as you can, trying to play more aggressive. For me, playing closer to the baseline is a good sign of that. Normally you're getting a little bit more on your ball. Because
of that, you're taking time away from your opponent. If you stand one or two metres further behind the baseline, you're giving them a lot more time on the ball.”
Murray pointed to Aussie teenager [Bernard] Tomic as one of the players he would pay to watch, along with the now-retired French magician Fabrice Santoro. He admires men who can mix spins and speeds and finds every nook and cranny of the court.
“I think someone like Tomic, people might think he doesn't hit the ball that hard, but he dictates how the match gets played because of the variety that he uses,” he said. “That's something that I try to do, as well. Play the match at the pace you want to play at. There's many different ways of playing. It just has to be within your game
style and mine's by using a lot of variety. I feel like when I play closer to the baseline, that's when I have my best results.”
The Scot has been working with a new coach, eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl, who had a reputation of bringing fitness to a new level when he ruled the sport during the mid to late 1980s. Lendl also had one of the game’s most admired forehands, learned to bomb big serves and moved very well. Murray’s strengths lie with his wicked two-handed backhand, his return and his touch. His first serve has improved a ton and he’s working at adding more depth to his forehand and to trust himself more at the net.
But what he has done particularly well since he first played the Australian Open seven years ago is read the court. It is not an innate ability, but one that he learned from his mother, Britain’s Fed Cup coach Judy Murray, who always told him to pay attention to the patterns of matches.
Murray was not familiar with Roger-Vasselin’s game, but knows a lot more about Llodra, who will have a heck of a time charging the net against a man who loves launch passing shots.
“Once the rally starts, normally by the shots that you play, you kind of know where the ball's going to come back,” Murray said. “So when I played against [Ryan] Harrison, at the start of the match, I hadn't played him before, I wasn't seeing the ball well, started playing a few games. After playing the first set I started understanding the
patterns of play he didn't like and kept doing them over and over again. Once you can understand a player's patterns, you can anticipate the balls much better, see the shots they're going to hit a lot earlier.”