Brain Game: Murray Finds Right Formula To Dismiss Djokovic
On a slow clay court under rainy skies in Rome, Murray dialed up more power, improved his court position, and attacked the net in crucial moments to soundly defeat Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-3 in the final of International BNL d’Italia.
It was a commanding performance from the Brit, displaying a clear change in his defensive tactics that have only yielded one victory in the last 13 matches against the Serb. In the Madrid final last week, Murray totaled 22 winners in 26 games, losing 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to Djokovic. In Rome, he hit two more winners (24) in eight less games. The offensive switch was clearly flicked to ‘on” for this gladiatorial battle.
Murray hit eight forehand groundstroke winners, with six standing inside the baseline, finishing off the point with commanding court position. Djokovic only had four forehand winners for the match, while committing 22 errors (15 groundstroke / 7 return).
In the Madrid final a week ago, which is more conducive to hitting harder in the higher altitude, Murray’s average groundstroke speed was 106km/h (66mph). With Murray leading 6-2, 1-1 in the Rome final, his average groundstroke speed was ramped up to 114km/h (71mph). It’s important to factor in the Rome final was played in a light rain for a significant period, and right at sea level. Murray’s increased power level was pre-meditated - not the result of his surroundings.
In the opening set, Murray’s increased speed from the back of the court powered him to win a substantial 64 per cent (21/33) of the baseline points, owning the world number one’s typical area of expertise.
Finishing at Net
A direct flow-on factor from Murray’s bigger ground game was the ability to extract shorter balls from Djokovic to finish points at net. Murray only won 38 per cent (5/13) at net in the Madrid final last week, but won a very healthy 76 per cent (13/17) in Rome.
The all-court pressure made the wolves howl in Djokovic’s mind, compounding his problems under foot in the heavy conditions. At all levels of the game, when frustration takes over between the points, it’s basically impossible to navigate your way successfully to the finish line during the point.
There were 17 drop shots hit in 18 games, with Djokovic winning 56 per cent (5/9) and Murray winning 63 per cent (5/8). It was a smart secondary tactic from both players that was typically employed after a deep groundstroke, that then opened up the front of the court to be exploited.
One Crucial Serve & Volley Point
Djokovic did have a shot to get back into the match, earning a break point early in the second set with Murray serving at 1-2, 30/40. Djokovic split-stepped to cover Murray’s favorite sliding serve down the middle T, but Murray was mentally a step ahead, serving wide to Djokovic’s stronger backhand return with his only serve-and-volley play of the match.
On a huge point, on a damp clay court, Murray pulled out exactly the right surprise tactic with the match in the balance. He knocked off an easy forehand volley winner to stop the Serb in his tracks. It was just one point, but the aggression and timing said plenty about how Murray was taking the result into his own hands.
It also showed a keen understanding of avoiding a baseline exchange at that juncture of the match, as the Serb had won 75 per cent (12/16) of baseline points to date in Set 2.
At Ad Out, Murray mixed back down the middle T with a big sliding first serve that Djokovic returned long. A step ahead in the mind games once again.
Stepping Up on 2nd Serve
Djokovic had another small window of opportunity to get back into the match with Murray serving 4-3, 30-30 in Set 2. Murray missed his first serve, and had lost all seven of his second serve points so far in the set. Throughout Murray’s career, he has typically spun his second serve in around the 140km/h mark (86mph), but on this decisive point, he crushed a 170km/h (105mph) second serve, winning the point three shots later as Djokovic sailed a backhand long.
Big moment. Big serve. Fortune favours the brave Scot.