Murray: Underarm Serve A ‘Smart Play’
Andy Murray notched his 60th match win at Wimbledon on Monday, 17 years after his first. The two-time champion’s ability to adapt with the times has been key to his success over such a long period, something that was clearly demonstrated by his use of an underarm serve during his first-round victory against James Duckworth.
“He changed his return position,” said Murray in his post-match press conference. “That's why I did it. He was standing very close to return [initially], he was struggling a little bit on the first-serve return. So he stepped probably two meters further back. As soon as I saw him step further back, I threw the underarm serve in."
The Briton deployed the tactic when serving with a 2-1 lead in the third set against the World No. 74. Duckworth scampered forward and was able to return the ball but was subsequently undone by a Murray lob.
“I personally have no issue with players using it,” added Murray. “I never have. Certainly, more and more players have started returning from further, further behind the baseline now to give themselves an advantage to return.
“The underarm serve is a way of saying, if you're going to step back there, then I'm going to possibly throw that in.”
Murray views the tactic as a useful one to keep opponents on their toes on return. It is one he is happy to use again, should a similar situation arise.
“I don't know why people have ever found it potentially disrespectful,” said the former World No. 1. “I've never understood that. It's a legitimate way of serving.
“I would never use an underarm serve if someone was standing on the baseline because I think it's a stupid idea. They're going to track it down and it's easy to get. If they stand four or five metres behind the baseline, then why would you not do that to try to bring them forward if they're not comfortable returning there? Tactically, it's a smart play.
“No one says it's disrespectful for someone to return from six metres behind the baseline to try to get an advantage. So, I used it not to be disrespectful to him but to say, if you're going to step further back to return the serve to give yourself more time, then I'm going to exploit that.”
The topic of serving is likely to remain a focus in Murray’s second-round match against 20th seed John Isner. The American served 54 aces in his opening-round win over French qualifier Enzo Couacaud, bringing him to within 40 of Ivo Karlovic’s world record career total of 13,728. Yet Murray is renowned for his ability to blunt big servers and holds an 8-0 ATP Head2Head series record against Isner.
“I don't know exactly why my record is as it is against those guys,” said Murray. “They're obviously very tough players to play against because of the nature of how the matches go. You're not necessarily always in control of them. You can go four or five service return games where you're not getting any opportunities. There's not always lots of rhythm in the match, so it's difficult.
“But for whatever reason I've always played well against them. The matchups have been good for me. I played well against John in the past. I don't think I've ever played him on grass before, so there will be different challenges.
“He's played well here before. He was very close to making the final a few years ago. I'll need to play really well and certainly return a bit better than I did tonight if I want to get through that.”
Another player with one of the biggest serves on Tour, Nick Kyrgios, has also become known for his use of the underarm delivery. The Australian was asked about the tactic after his thrilling five-set win over British wild card Paul Jubb on Tuesday.
“I actually remember the first time I did it, was against [Rafael] Nadal in Acapulco,” said the Australian. “Everyone should just watch that back. The commentators were like, ‘What's he done here?’ It's so disrespectful. Why would he do that?
“Now it's like, So smart. Andy Murray, so smart. I'm just like, What on earth? I [was] playing Rafael Nadal for like three hours. I couldn't win a point. I threw in one underarm serve. They [said], ‘I don't know if there's a place in the game for that.’ Everyone does it now. It's like they're a genius.
“I'm glad that people are realising that's a different way to win the point. I think it's just hilarious.”