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How Murray Has Become Top Clay-Court Player

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers delves into the Scot's improved play on clay

A tennis player’s foot hits the clay court…

Sometimes it stops. Mostly it slides. The ground reaction forces, and the impact loads they create, are a lot more complex than we realize for players at all levels of the game to master. It takes trial and error, but once a player figures out the most efficient energy and movement, things suddenly explode in the win/loss column.

Andy Murray, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Sunday by winning the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, is one of those players who has finally figured the clay-court conundrum. In his mind, and under his feet, clay used to be a mystery.

“I never expected to be having the results I am having on clay,” Murray said after his Rome victory. “I had always been told that clay should really be my best surface, but it took me a long time to gain a little bit of confidence. But also I did make huge improvements in my movement on the surface.”

Murray added, “That has changed my mentality when I go on the court a lot. I don't feel like I'm off-balance anymore and I feel like I can chase most balls down. It's an easy surface for me to move on now.”

An Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers analysis of Murray’s clay-court resume the past 52 weeks reveals he has actually evolved into one of the best clay-court players in the game.

His Return Rating, determined by adding his winning percentage in the four service return categories, puts him second in the ATP Stats LEADERBOARD during that period, with 179.6 points. He trails only Rafael Nadal, who has 180 points.

Murray is the best in the world on clay in the last 52 weeks with points won returning second serves, at 56 per cent. That’s slightly better than his hard-court average of 55.8 per cent. Murray split-steps well inside the baseline to return second serves, effectively taking the server’s time away by rebounding the ball right back at the server before he has time to adequately prepare.

On clay, Murray is second in the world to Nadal in first-serve return points won, at 36.3 per cent, and second in return games won, at 37.3 per cent. In the 2016 season, Murray is the world leader in return games won on clay at 38 per cent.

Murray is fifth in the world at converting break points on clay in the last 52 weeks at 50 per cent. The Scot is 29-3 in the past 13 months on clay, and is firming as one of the heavy favourites next week at Roland Garros.

“I'm going into Roland Garros with a lot of confidence and really good preparation. I feel like I'm on the right track. So hopefully I can have a good run there,” Murray said.

Murray was runner-up at the Australian Open this year. Unlocked the sliding, fluid energy required to move efficiently on a clay court has him poised to go one step further in Paris.

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