Brain Game: Murray’s Masterful Tactics
Learn how Andy Murray broke an eight-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic to capture the Rogers Cup title in Montreal.
Andy Murray was defiant. The Scot faced nine break points against Novak Djokovic in the deciding third set of their Rogers Cup final, and brilliantly saved six with unreturned serves, and three with courageous forays to the net. Djokovic never had a sniff.
Murray defeated Djokovic 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to win a third Canadian title, with one the best tactical matches of his career. He hit the ball harder, held the baseline, came forward in key moments, and served well in the clutch to snap an eight-match losing streak against the World No. 1.
It was a strategic upgrade all around. Murray evolved out of his typically neutralising comfort zone to reap the benefits of attacking first, and especially shortening the point.
Murray got off to an excellent start to lead 4-1 in the opening set, by thumping heavy groundstrokes, particularly cross court off his backhand wing. Murray’s average groundstroke speed for the tournament was 64 miles per hour (mph) coming into the Montreal final, but that was ramped up to 69mph in the opening five games.
Djokovic was repeatedly pushed onto his back foot by the early power, hitting 23 per cent of his groundstrokes at least six feet behind the baseline in the first five games, compared to nine per cent in the next four games. That’s exactly the desired effect of Murray’s improved power and depth.
By 4-2 in the opening set, Murray had won 20 baseline points to the Serb’s 10, cracking five backhand winners in the opening set to Djokovic’s two.
The average rally length in the opening two sets was only five shots long, which was night and day compared to the opening two sets of their 2015 Australian Open final. In Melbourne, the first two sets produced 57 extended rallies of 10-plus shots. In the first two sets in Montreal, there were only 15. Murray’s shift in tactics was definitely the root cause of that.
Plan B = the Net
With Djokovic losing the back court battle, the Serb countered by coming forward much more than we are used to seeing from him. Surprisingly, he ended the point standing at the net 25 times in the opening set, only winning 12 of them.
Murray had successfully pushed the world’s best baseliner off the baseline.
Djokovic ended up winning 56 per cent (27/48) of all points coming forward for the match, while Murray was far more efficient, winning 68 per cent (21/31) at the net. Murray used the front of the court to finish points, while Djokovic used it more to escape the barrage from the back.
Set 3 Aggression
Murray saved his first break point in his opening service game of the third set with an unreturned first serve out wide in the Ad Court. Murray had lost the first eight points of the second set, and it would have spelt disaster to fall behind an early break in the third.
Then he simply took charge.
Returning at 1-0, Deuce, Murray hit a brilliant forehand return approach off a second serve right down the middle of the court, giving Djokovic no angle to pass with. Approaching down the middle of the court is highly underrated, and the passing shot went wide into the alley, chasing direction that really doesn’t exist.
On the next point at Ad Out, Murray crushed a trademark backhand cross court and followed it to the net for an easy volley winner for the break.
He wasn’t waiting for the finish line to come and find him this time around.
The 3-1 game in the third set was the most important hold of the match for Murray, with the game lasting 10 deuces and almost 18 minutes long. He saved five break points in that crucial game, four with unreturned serves and one with a backhand volley winner.
Murray’s masterful tactics were orchestrated by Jonas Bjorkman, who was court-side, and fellow-coach Amelie Mauresmo, who had given birth to a baby boy, just a few hours earlier. “This one’s for her,” Murray said post-match.
It was an inspiring victory all around – one Murray should consistently analyze to cement in his mind that the key ingredients of power, court-position and finishing forward are all critical for him to be holding hardware on any given Sunday.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.