Andy Murray is quietly but surely becoming the total package.
For the past several years Murray has consistently been one of the best returners in the world but in the past 12 months it’s his serve that gets the credit for lifting him to the elite level of the sport.
Murray defeated Jerzy Janowicz 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the Wimbledon semi-finals Friday with yet another stellar serving performance on the world’s biggest stage. Murray, seeded two, will now face top seed Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.
Since 2006 Murray has been consistently ranked in the top four in the world for points won on opponent’s second serves. His best year was 2012 where he finished number one in the world in this critical area. He steps well inside the baseline, takes a very short backswing off both sides and rebounds the power of the serve right back at his opponent. The main goal is to take time away from the server to prepare for their initial groundstroke.
But returning is only half the game.
Serving is where Murray is making his biggest steps forward and he was lights out against Janowicz making 70 percent of his first serves, winning 76 percent of those points and remarkably winning 71 percent of his second serve points. Those numbers are all above his 2013 averages. Against Janowicz he was nine percent better than his 2012 average making first serves, two percent better in winning them and 21 percent better winning second serves. On the biggest stage Murray’s serve has come to play.
The most important serving statistic always focuses on break points. It’s hard to lose a match you can’t be broken. Janowicz was only able to convert one of seven break points in the semi-final which makes it all but impossible defeat the great Scot.
Murray’s success against Janowicz was his variety. In the deuce court on first serves Murray won 16 points serving out wide and exactly the same amount serving down the middle. In the Ad court he won 15 serving down the middle and 13 serving out wide. The important element was to keep Janowicz guessing and Murray absolutely achieved that. On second serves Murray avoided Janowicz’s more lethal forehand return, serving a total of 11 serves jamming at the body, one to the forehand and twelve to the backhand. Murray is gravitating to far higher percentage serving patterns than he was attempting even a couple of years ago.
On paper Janowicz’s flamethrower of a serve was the “x” factor on Friday as he regularly crushes it at 140mph. He is also the ace leader for the tournament with 103. But Murray shut that weapon down as well, hitting 20 aces in the semi-final to Janowicz’s nine. That could be the most impressive stat to come from the match. Murray is now in second place for most aces hit for the tournament with 80 – four more than Djokovic.
Murray was also better returning than Janowicz, hitting 14 return winners to six, and breaking his Polish opponent five times from 13 opportunities. Murray hit more overall winners (49 to 43) and only made 15 unforced errors to Janowicz’s 43.
Murray’s improved serve will be a vital part of his campaign to beat Djokovic in the final on Sunday. Murray has lost to the Serb the last three times they have played (Melbourne, London, Shanghai) and the last time he beat him was in the US Open final New York in five sets last September.
In the fifth set of the US Open final it was Murray’s serve that was the main reason he was able to secure his first Grand Slam title. He hit his spots and won 9/10 (90%) of his first serve points going out wide and down the middle against Djokovic.
In gusty conditions Murray made 70% of his first serves in the deciding fifth set and won 71 percent of them, which was the highest winning percentage of any of the five sets. As a result Murray only had to hit six second serves for the entire fifth set, winning three of them.
The pressure from Murray’s quality service games also has an effect on the other side of the net as well. In the fourth set of the US Open final Djokovic made 83% of his first serves. In the fifth set, with Murray charging, Djokovic capitulated to 45%.
A major theme of this year’s blockbuster Wimbledon final between Murray and Djokovic will be Murray’s 1st serve percentage. It is the engine room of his updated game style that eases pressure for the rest of his game and dials it up on his opponent. If Murray has a solid serving day the title is his and Great Britain may as well take a week off work to celebrate.
Craig O’Shannessy directs a tennis strategy analysis company called the Brain Game and runs the Brain Game Tennis Academy at the Polo Club in Austin, Tex. He can be followed on Twitter at @braingametennis.