Earlier today, spectators in the Coachella Valley were treated to a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final – Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic. Both managed to maneuver their way through the desert draw, but in a semifinal that mirrored the late – rather than early – stages of their Melbourne encounter, it was the Serb that cruised to victory. Winning 6-2, 6-3, Djokovic never really looking in danger of relinquishing his dominance over Murray that’s featured in the past calendar year.
In this edition of #SaturdayNightShots, we’re going to shine the spotlight on a shot in the Brit’s arsenal that has both seen praise and come under scrutiny throughout his career – the Murray serve.
Particularly during today’s victory, Djokovic was ruthless in exploiting some of his opponents weaker offerings…and even most of the strong ones.[tweet https://twitter.com/tennisabstract/status/579367736691843073 align=’center’]
But Murray’s serve has also seen some very good days, particularly during the Dunblane native’s strongest spell between the summers of 2012 and 2013. Success on serve was one of the key elements that helped Murray become a two-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist in the span of a little over a year.
Murray’s service motion has a couple of unorthodox tweaks and peculiarities. After guiding the ball upwards and then shortly pocketing it beneath his chest, he extends the left arm again and it swings out to the back after the hit point of the ball. Overall, this is nothing more than an aesthetic feature as well as his way to balance out the stroke delivery.
But let us look at a far more important aspect of the World No. 4’s serve: his strong knee bend. It extends through his back in the pinpoint position, providing a contrast to many of his contemporaries (e.g. Federer). As a result, Murray’s ball toss and his serve motion are almost, for the lack of a better word, a little tilted. His serve doesn’t line up in the most straightforward manner and consequently, there is a prevailing tendency to not only extend upwards and through the ball but also to come around it – creating a certain amount of slice on many of his serves.
When Murray manages to flatten out his first serve, he’s able to generate a high velocity, which puts him into the upper echelon of serve speeds.
In the past two years, the Brit has tried to tinker with his serve, mainly due to back problems and eventual back surgery. However, he recently revealed that he feels like he went back to the way he served before his surgery.
Towards the end of the 2015 Australian Open, however, one of the most eyebrow raising statistics was the comparison of the second serve speeds among the four finalists on the men’s and women’s side. Sharapova and Williams went toe to toe with 95 mph and 93 mph respectively, whereas Djokovic packed a strong punch at 104 mph. Murray, however, found himself on the bottom of the board with 82 mph – which certainly didn’t help his fortunes, particularly in the closing stages of the match. His second serve troubles over the course of the past year have lead to many voices from the outside chiming in to offer their advice.
Some have been reasonable. Others seem to simplify it just a little too much.
After today’s match in Indian Wells, Murray admitted that it was his first serve in particular that let him down throughout the encounter: “I tried to go for a few more serves today and to try to get a few free points but [..] serving 50% or just below is [..] not good enough against the best players. I thought I actually hit my second serve better than I did in Australia today, but first‐serve percentage was too low.”
Murray’s first as well as second serve will continue to be one of the more talked-about shots in the ATP Top 10 due to its tendency to cover the entire spectrum: strength, liability and everything in between.
Slider Out Wide: As previously implied, Murray’s tendency to add some slice to his first serve is direct consequence of his service motion, particularly if his ball toss is straight up; this gives Murray one of the best sliders out wide on the deuce side and down the middle on the add side. At roughly 115 mph, the serve packs some punch and curls away from the opponent rather viciously and sets him up well for the next shot. In addition, Murray can flatten it out if necessary and has the ability to mix it up and throw in a serve down the middle on the deuce side or out wide on the ad-side.
Made for grass: The 2013 Wimbledon champion’s serves translate well to the greens of SW19; thanks to the lower bounce and his good slice serve, the ball shoots through the court nicely.
Placement on the first serve: Murray is able to hit all boxes fairly well. The Brit used to line up tennis balls cans on the practice courts and spent buckets of balls without missing a singles time. It served him quite well, literally. </puns>
Where’s the kick?: While the World No. 4 is able to hit around the ball and create heaps of slice, brushing up the ball for an efficient kick serve does not exactly come naturally to the 27-year-old. His incredible bend and the position of his ball toss aren’t the most conducive to a heavy kicker. He’d need to be either a little more upright to get the pronation (underarm rotation) into the right angle or alter his ball toss for that to happen. Murray has made efforts to include it into his service repertoire but, particularly as a second serve on the ad-side, it lacks depth and penetration through the court and becomes easy prey for skilled returners like Djokovic.
Just don’t get tight: From a technical point of view, Murray’s serve isn’t the absolute soundest of shots – which shouldn’t be confused with “technically flawed” – because it is far from that. But when he becomes tight, the tension shines through in his service delivery from time to time. The serve can get him out of jail occasionally, but more often than not, it’s his second serve that gets him into trouble. Also, the tighter Murray gets, the less disguise he has on the shot and the ball toss begins to tell a story or two when it comes to the placement.
What do you think makes or breaks Andy Murray’s serve? Sound off in the comments!