Murray Sticks To His Plan Under Pressure In London
World No. 1 will face Djokovic in the title match on Sunday
Andy Murray moved through to the final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with a scintillating 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) victory at The O2 on Saturday, and a snapshot of just one point from the third-set tie-break provides an overview of how a broad strategic plan plays out at a critical moment in time.
Third Set Tie-Break 5/5: Murray Serving
For the match, Murray served 72 per cent out wide in the deuce court, 23 per cent down the middle T, and just five per cent at the body. On this huge deuce court point, the Brit stuck with his favorite slice location out wide, even though it was to Raonic’s more potent forehand wing.
The serve offered Murray an excellent chance to follow up the initial blow with a “Serve +1” forehand, which he did. For the match, Murray hit 77 per cent forehands as his first shot after a first serve, and 66 per cent behind a second serve. The serve followed by a forehand is one of our sport’s most influential tactics.
As to script, Murray served out wide and immediately got a forehand after a solid return from Raonic. Murray hit six forehands and two backhands in total for the point, all focused on moving Raonic side to side and keeping him back. Murray constantly tried to keep the tall Canadian as off balance as possible, preventing Raonic from getting squarely set behind the ball and crushing it.
Tennis is very much a cross-court sport, but Murray atypically hit his forehand more down the line in this match than cross-court – 53 per cent down the line, 47 per cent cross-court. Murray wanted to move Raonic, where less balance equals less power, and the errors can flow more freely.
Raonic’s average forehand speed for the match was 75 mph, substantially faster than Murray’s 70 mph. There is a saying in tennis that big shots go to big targets, and Raonic followed that rule well, hitting his forehand 58 per cent of the time cross-court, where the landing area is greater, and 42 per cent down the line.
The average rally length for the match was five shots, with Murray’s main goal to keep Raonic going left and right much as much as possible. Raonic did all he could to counter Murray’s tactics by steadfastly committing to the net, coming in a massive 61 times and winning 67 per cent of those points (41/61).
Raonic made contact with the ball 30 per cent of the time from inside the baseline (Murray, 25 per cent), but 25 per cent of the time, Raonic was deeper than two metres behind the baseline, which was slightly more than Murray’s 23 per cent.
Murray took the honours with the battle of the backhands, but Raonic's backhand was serviceable with a variety of deft slices, driving through the ball and also blocking well on return of serve. Murray’s average backhand speed was 62 mph, slightly ahead of Raonic’s 59 mph. Both players hit 57 per cent of their backhands cross-court and 43 per cent down the line.
A metric that clearly shows Raonic’s improvement from the back of the court was his superiority in the extended rallies of 10 shots or longer, where he held a 16-14 advantage.
At 5/5 in the tie-break, Raonic missed his last forehand down the line, and he missed a similar forehand on match point to lose the match. Both shots were born of smart strategy of matching up a forehand approach against a backhand pass. They just needed slightly better execution.