Andy Murray is the new king of the baseline.
Murray’s thrilling Wimbledon victory over Novak Djokovic can be largely attributed to his improved control of baseline rallies which forced Djokovic to look for other higher risk ways to win points. Murray defeated Djokovic 6-4, 7-5 6-4 in a hot, grueling battle and by winning the arm wrestle of baseline domination he was able to play the final more on his terms and make Djokovic play out of his comfort zone.
Murray said in his 2012 Wimbledon runner-up speech that he was improving and we see the proof with Olympic gold, the US Open singles title and now the biggest prize of all. Djokovic went far more to his “Plan B” tactics than we are accustomed to seeing which may also have been brought on from lingering fatigue from his five-set semi-final victory over Juan Martin Del Potro.
The main problem with Djokovic trying so many different things is that he ultimately becomes master of none. It hurts his focus as it’s tougher to constantly switch gears, makes it more difficult to develop a winning strategy and gives Murray confidence because he knows he is controlling the engine room of the rallies. For example, Djokovic only served and volleyed 15 times in six matches leading up to the final, winning 13. But against Murray he served and volleyed 10 times and could only manage to win 50% of those points. It was surprising to see him do it as much as he did, especially since it ended up being a break-even proposition. Djokovic also over-used his drop shot, only winning four of 10 points. The four he won all came in a space of four games early in the third set but he lost the last three in a row later in the set as Murray surged to win the last four games of the match.
Djokovic came forward far more than we are used to seeing as well, approaching the net an astonishing 52 times in three sets. He won 58% (32) of those points but normally he is ruling the baseline so much more that he only comes forward in obvious situations. In the 2013 Australian Open final, Djokovic only came to the net 41 times in his four set victory over Murray, winning 85% of his points. Yes, it is a different surface and different conditions but it does help paint the picture – 17.3 times a set at Wimbledon is remarkably higher than 10.2 times a set in Melbourne. Something made him change and that something is from Scotland.
Djokovic has built his career around incredibly solid baseline play and would not normally risk so much with serve and volleying, drop shots and approaching if he didn’t believe that he was no longer the owner of the back of the court.
Murray’s baseline play in the Wimbledon final was very solid as he tormented Djokovic with great depth and direction off both his forehand and backhand wings. Murray also mixed in a considerable amount of heavy slice backhands to keep Djokovic off balance and to get the ball down below his strike zone.Murray used his forehands effectively as well, especially his running crosscourt shot from wide in the deuce court back behind Djokovic.
Murray had 10 forehand and 10 backhand winners for the match while Djokovic had nine forehand and seven backhand winners. Murray was credited with only 13 unforced errors from the baseline over the three sets while Djokovic racked up 23.
The battle for baseline supremacy started on the very first point with Murray winning a 20-shot rally when Djokovic missing a forehand down the line. The average rally length in the first set was a high 7.1 shots with Murray dominated the opening set with 17 winners to Djokovic’s six. Djokovic was not without his chances in the next two sets as he was a break up in both of them but without the ability to consistently win baseline rallies he found it too tough to finish the sets off. Murray went on a run winning 18/21 points to end the second set and start the third.
In a lot of ways Djokovic should be commended for attempting new strategies if he didn’t think he had a chance by staying patient in baseline rallies as he normally does. Ultimately the standing ovation goes to Murray for making Djokovic do something different. Forcing your will on the world number one in a Wimbledon final is no easy feat.
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