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Murray playing his way on clay

Jonathan Overend | 23:27 UK time, Friday, 22 May 2009

Andy Murray press conference habits include fiddling with the microphone, inspecting reporters' latest recording gadgets and an entertaining tendency to over-use the expression "whatnot" ("he's got a good forehand and whatnot") which, I suppose, is mildly better than "and stuff".

Another guarantee, whenever his game-plan is questioned by layman journalists, is the indignant huff, the wry smile, the ever-so-slightly-offended shake of the head.

"Who are these people," he appears to be asking. "Did any of them get to number three in the world?"

And of course he is right. Generally speaking, we are all mostly rubbish, apart from the man from The Independent and Barry Cowan. Suffice to say questioning the best players about their tactics is a dangerous game.

For the brave and the foolish, here are three ways to get on the wrong side of the British number one when the mic gets passed around:

1. Ask him why he played so many drop shots.
2. Ask him why he didn't play more drop shots.
3. Ask him why he was so passive.

Thankfully, question one hasn't been required that much lately. Question two is only asked by people wearing hard hats and body armour. Question three, however, always starts an interesting debate.

Murray knows what he is doing, he always has done. This unflinching self-confidence and belief in his own tennis and tactical ability has got him to the top of the sport.

But there have been times over the course of his young career when passive baseline play has been preferred to hard-court-style aggression, and eyebrows have been raised.

Andy Murray

Murray, always an engaging speaker when the topic of discussion moves to tennis tactics, makes this observation:

"Just because I might be behind the baseline and hitting the ball high and hitting with slice doesn't necessarily mean I'm not dictating the way I want the match to go.

"People may think that's defensive tennis but for me that's how I win matches and how I turn the play into my best offensive tennis."

Murray, who has made decent strides during the clay-court season so far, reaching the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo and quarter-finals in Madrid, believes any tactical imbalance has now been corrected. His intention is to play his game and draw his opponent into his particular pattern.

"The one thing I've done better this year is that I haven't treated it as a completely different surface and totally changed my game style," Murray told BBC Sport. "I can still play the way I do on hard-courts, I just need to move better and I have done."

He indicated that he may try to dictate the play when he faces Argentine grinder Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round here in Paris.

"Against the real clay-courters who play with a lot of top-spin you can almost try to make it a hard-court match by playing a little flatter and coming into the net a bit.

"But when you're playing a guy who's not a clay-courter, I'll try to play a little more patiently - try to make a few more balls and play higher over the net."

This season, Murray has demonstrated his considerable clay-court potential. Wins over Davydenko in Monte Carlo and Robredo in Madrid were terrific scalps for his CV, while a magnificent, late renaissance against Nadal in their Monaco semi-final was the type of response to indicate a genuine rivalry for future years.

The remarkable Spaniard is seeded to meet Murray in the semi-finals in Paris but the Scot will do well to get that far. A last-four finish will be a very decent showing and, wisely, he is refusing to look beyond his awkward first-round draw.

And is anyone brave enough to bet against Nadal winning a fifth successive French Open? Federer may have beaten him in Madrid but Nadal didn't enjoy the conditions at altitude and reckons he only played well for a set and a half in that epic semi with Djokovic.

High standards, that man from Majorca. That is why he is unbeaten in his entire career at Roland Garros since his debut in 2005. If that isn't one of modern-day sport's most remarkable factoids, I don't know what is.

Once again, Murray has British company in the main draw of a Grand Slam with Anne Keothavong and Mel South, who have both made excellent progress this year, in the women's draw.

Katie O'Brien and Elena Baltacha, who were both were one match away from qualifying for Roland Garros, are not far behind the domestic top two and wouldn't it be nice to think that some time soon there could be four British women in the main draw of a major championship as of right?

All the more peculiar, therefore, that LTA head of women's tennis Carl Maes felt the need to resign last month.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think part of the reason people want Andy to be more aggressive is that it is obviously more attractive to watch - his win over Nadal at the US Open was the most fun ive ever had watching him

  • Comment number 2.

    andy is playing well and will continue to improve, but i wouldn't bet against federer being the one to dethrone nadal. though federer's results this year are not his best leading in- i think he has momentum and overcame a huge psychological barrier in spain...and remember what tiger did when little sam came around...

  • Comment number 3.

    Thats probably the best description Andy has given about his game to date, that is exactly what he does, defensive play building up to him dicating play rather than he's opponent, yes he did have an imfatic win over Nadal at the U.S open although Nadal wasn't up for a long five setter, he's serve though was the key, he's serve was superb that day, and Nadal had struggled through all his matches throughout the tournament, was to be expected as was Federers win in the final, well rested unlike Murray, he came at firing and took the match with ease. Murray has only just turned 22 so this year could be his, finally getting his Grand Slam!

  • Comment number 4.

    I don't think Andy Murray will come anywhere close this year. Clay is not his favourite and he will continue to struggle on it. Chela is great on clay and could well test Murray in a five set match. His only 22 so he has plenty of time to improve. However I think Wimbledon and the US Open are his best shots. After looking at the draw the best I think Murray can get to is the quarter finals.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am amazed that so many "pundits" seem to remark that Murray has more than sufficient excuses for poor porformances on clay as he is unfamiliar with the surface. My word, he spent his entire formative years training in Spain on - clay. It should be his most comfortable surface, not his least.

  • Comment number 6.

    Ace you - 22 is not young for a tennis player, so, no, he doesnt have plenty of time to improve. And you dont mention who you think he will lose to in the quarters?
    Look, somebody has to be number three in the world. Maybe he will get better but maybe he will get worse. Its hard to make the next step, especially when the top 2 consist of probably the best player ever, and probably the most talented player ever. He could improve dramatically on all surfaces and still not win a Grand Slam.

  • Comment number 7.

    Come on Andy you have ay least one fan here in Venezuela. My 2 favorites are Federer and Murray.


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