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Murray finds form ahead of French

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Jonathan Overend | 10:11 UK time, Thursday, 20 May 2010

Andy Murray is sitting behind a desk fiddling with the microphone, as usual.

I have yet to discover whether this is a nervous twitch or, perhaps more likely, a more appealing pastime than talking to a room full of middle-aged hacks.

Anyhow, the British number one player is pondering the finest clay-court performance of his career so far.

A "tough question" apparently, which is taken as a compliment, and it takes him a while to seize upon a shortlist.

Of course there isn't a huge pool to choose from, having played only 44 professional matches on the surface - winning 23.

Compare that with 169 wins and 50 defeats on hard courts, or 34 wins and 9 defeats on grass, and you appreciate Murray's relative inexperience of winning on the red shale.

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Murray showed signs on getting back to his best in Madrid last week

"I played a very good one against Acasuso a few years ago at the French... last year I felt I played some good matches, had a good win against Davydenko in Monte Carlo."

Then his normally encyclopaedic tennis brain lets him down momentarily. "Who did I lose to at the French last year?"

"Gonzalez."

"That wasn't very good."

Unsurprisingly his tame demise 12 months ago - when a stack of short balls got fire-laden treatment from an inspired Chilean - doesn't make the cut.

The Acasuso match, the previous year, was magnificent - bruising intent from the outset, eight games dropped - and the Davydenko result, on a cooling Monaco evening, was a perfect demonstration of controlled aggression.

I'd pick out two other spells - rather than complete matches - which are locked in my Murray-watching-memory.

The first was on his 20th birthday back in 2007 when, before a wrist injury forced him to retire (subsequently ruling him out of the French and Wimbledon), he stormed into a 5-1 lead over the Italian Fillipo Volandri.

It was the tennis equivalent of Twenty20 as Murray marched down the pitch and hit sixes all over the place. There were only a couple of hundred of us in the weed-ridden Hamburg stands and it felt like a personal masterclass.

Then last year in Monte Carlo, after the Davydenko win, he was playing Nadal in the semis and getting a good beating. But with the Spaniard on the brink of victory, Murray turned the second set around by stepping closer to the baseline, hitting flatter over the net and scaring Nadal with the ferocity of his shots.

He still lost in straight sets but you had to be there to appreciate the trouble Murray gave the king of clay for a good 20 minutes.

Which leads us neatly to the reason for this burst of nostalgia.

When Andy Murray lost to David Ferrer in Madrid last week, his final serious match before his French Open campaign begins, he played really, really well.

The sort of performance to confirm his return to form, to reassure us he is back in the game mentally, to provide optimism for the Paris fortnight.

"If I hit the ball like that I'll beat a lot of guys," Murray said after the match. "I definitely feel way way better than a few weeks ago. I've got my intensity back, my mind's where I want it to be on the court.

"I'm moving good, hitting the ball well and there's no reason I can't play well at the French. I can't think of my best match [on clay] but this year that was the best one - although I still feel like I can play 20-30% better."

The fact is, even in defeat, that match last Friday was one of Murray's best displays on the surface - definitely making his top 10, top five at a stretch - and it bodes well for a decent run at Roland Garros.

His problem, as demonstrated in the Spanish capital, isn't so much his own form but the quality of the opposition.

Three Spaniards - Nadal, Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro - made the semis of Madrid and compatriots Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez were also in the last 16.

Albert Montanes has been winning tournaments all of a sudden and even the likes of Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moya and Tommy Robredo are still going.

Murray hardly played any clay-court tennis as a kid, only focusing on the surface when he moved to train in Barcelona at 15, so for all his natural ability he still finds himself playing catch-up at this time of year with these seasoned practitioners.

Ernests Gulbis of Latvia has emerged as the serious outside bet after fine performances in Rome and Madrid. He's played Federer twice inside a month and already it feels like a rivalry.

If Gulbis, a wild talent, has got himself together mentally, then he could be heading for the top 10 very quickly.

Which is where we find the two standard-bearers for men's tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, clear at the top of the game once more after the Spaniard's troubles in 2009.

It was fantastic to see them playing another decent final in Madrid at the weekend - their first for a year - and what an enticing prospect another French Open showdown would be.

Remember, when they played for the title in 2008 Federer was thrashed in an almost unspeakably brutal manner.

Then, last year, he capitalised on Nadal's surprise defeat and completed the career Grand Slam. Will that make a difference if they meet again?

And as for Murray, if he makes it through to a match with either of the heavyweights, he will have done wondrously well. That will mean a semi-final which, realistically, is the height of his expectation this fortnight.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    If murray leaves his shots short, mid court he is going to get knocked out very fast at this years French open. Would like to see a controlled aggressive on the baseline game from murray. I just worry that if he is not hitting his shots perfectly that he will retreat 3-5 meters behind the baseline and start waiting for mistakes from opposition. Murray needs to prove he can beat anyone anywhere with a dominant game. Thats the only way he will win a grand slam. If he equals last years result he will have done better then i expect. Hope he gets his game back so he can push for a grand slam final win before the year is out

  • Comment number 2.

    Excuse me if I say this article sounds like clutching at straws.

    Last year Andy was in the form of his life pre French open and still came up short in every grand slam. So far this year he has been abysmal and in my opinion he could be looking at reaching semi finals as a major achievement of the year

    All that was needed was that extra millimeter in performance over last years form to possibly finally break the duck, but even despite the relative apparent improvement in recent performances, he still seems to have gone backwards rather than forwards.

  • Comment number 3.

    Honestly Overend i hope your brief is not to write a blog about Murray every week. "Murray finds form?" what planet are you on? which form are you talking about. so he manages to avoid opening round defeats a couple of times and that in your opinion is equivalent to good form. i hope you've been watching other matches apart from the ones involving Murray.
    yes he's played better in the last tournament but really he could have played any worse than he was 4 weeks ago so it isn't a big jump. hopefully he can keep improving and get back to his early season form with which he won the hopman cup with Miss Robson. keep your head down and get back to basics man

  • Comment number 4.

    Feels like another Henman now to me..

  • Comment number 5.

    seriously guys is this an article worth to read? cant believe the praising of murray by this author for just winning couple of matches.i think the media should seriously consider not to overrate the players and overend tell us something new....ok not the same thing over and over again.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have had a bet with my friend since Murray came on the scene that he would not win a Grand Slam, a la Henman. £10 a year so far, cheers, Andy!

  • Comment number 7.

    I would like to join the chorus of outrage - how dare the British Broadcasting Corporation concentrate on the only British player in the top 100 in the world?

    And clearly the "praise" in this article - that even at his best there are at least 7 or 8 players who will beat him on clay - is entirely unjustified.

    Never mind chaps, just read the title rather than the article before expressing your outrage. Indeed many of the comments even make a virtue of it, saying it wasn't even worth their time to read it. Though apparently worth their time to comment on an article they didn't read...

  • Comment number 8.

    Carlos Moya is still going? Pull the other one, Jonathan, he got a wild-card to Madrid and was thumped by Benjamin Becker who himself is really not at home on clay. Feliciano Lopez is no great shakes on clay either, he got back-to-back hidings from Gulbis just to reinforce the point.

    Murray's a good bet for the second week of Roland Garros, but he'll probably come up short against the best clay-courters. One other player to keep an eye on is Djokovic, if he's in the mood he's got as good a chance as Ferrer, Verdasco and Gulbis of upsetting the Nadal-Federer procession - not saying it is a great chance, but he can do some damage.

  • Comment number 9.

    An article which partly focuses on Murray's finest clay court performances is dull, tedious and worthless, because as this article illustrates, there aren't any - he's miles away from winning on clay.

    Furthermore, this is the second article we've seen recently from Mr Overend about Murray's return to form, despite a distinct lack of compelling evidence to confirm any return to form.

    If Nadal does not win the French I will be astounded.

  • Comment number 10.

    Everyone is being far too critical and had you actually watched every one of Murray's matches this year then you would understand the content of the article. Murray actually is finding form despite the results. After all he's lost to the leading clay court winner this year and #3 form player in the last two tournaments, there's nothing inherently wrong with this.

    Murray was playing almost as well as I've ever seen him on clay in terms of potential. Three problems though:

    1) first serve percentage.
    2) not navigating the critical points as well as might be possible.
    3) inconsistency, the odd poor service game is costing him. And when he has had chances they've not paid off.

    All these things are down to experience and the dreaded first serve percentage.

  • Comment number 11.

    It's a sad state of affairs when one of your best performances on clay is a defeat. Murray needs to take a more positive approach particularly on clay as he cannot simply run players into submission on a slow court.

    In terms of winning a slam he's almost there, he won more tournaments than anyone last season so it's not that he doesn't have the game - it's finding it at the right time at the end of a slam. If he can do that then he can give himself a chance which he hasn't done in his 2 slam finals so far.

  • Comment number 12.

    @olegunna - His early season form at the hopman cup which saw him lose to Tommy Robredo on hard court?
    I thoroughly enjoy Mr Overend's updates. The majority of those writing these comments won't have seen Murray's performances good and otherwise, and I can second that Murray is well on his way to a return to form.
    The only reason Murray is miles from winning on clay is Rafael Nadal. Otherwise he has as good a chance as anybody - as there is far more competition on clay.

    I'm tired of British tennis bashing. Murray is clearly the third best player in the world (sometimes I think better than Nadal on hard court) - is he really underperforming by being behind the two of tennis' greats?

    Murray to reach the semis/

  • Comment number 13.

    the fact is that if Murray thinks he can only play 20-30% better then he has no chance of ever getting close to roland garros. Nadal playing badly is still above Murray's best level.

  • Comment number 14.

    You guys are pathetic, why the hatred of one of Britains best sportsman, jealous much?!?!!?!?

    I agree with Tim this is the BBC so JO's job brief will be to report i]on British Tennis players, seeing as The Mur is head and shoulders above any other then the chances are he will be the main focus of these blogs. I guarntee you the Spanish equivalent of he BBC will mainly focus on Nadal so go there Murray haters!!!!

    To say his form this year has been poor is fair although did he not get to the final of the only Major that has been played this year??? The thing people say about Fed is that he raises his game for the majors and doesnt perform (try) in the other tournaments, if that is the same for the Mur then i will take that.



  • Comment number 15.

    Get the feeling he gave up after losing the Australian and is now going through the motions. Wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't win much for a while, maybe ever.

  • Comment number 16.

    Jagsman30, I'm with you. Everyone, learn Spanish and French before you complain! :-) They're focused on their players as much as we're focused on ours (I lived in France, used to live in Spain).

    Here's the article on the draw from L'équipe (Frenh sports daily). Basically it bemaons the tricky draw that Gasquet has with Murray. In general the French didn't get great draws, best hopes ride with Tsonga. No surprise to see that the Spanish papers aren't looking past Nadal.

    http://www.lequipe.fr/Tennis/breves2010/20100521_124003_gasquet-pas-verni.html

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 18.

    Boy oh boy, the Murrayphobes on this page make tediously predictable reading...dull stuff. And often really badly written. No career in journalism for these kids.

    French S-F within Andy's reach; big chance at SW19 and Flushing too.

  • Comment number 19.

    Not sure why British observors are complaining - Murray's performances this year have been in line with expectations of British talent. He just can't win with you lot;)

  • Comment number 20.

    This line under the photo of Andy made me laugh as much as the totally bias article. I cant believe the BBC even printed this. How folks get to work for the BBC? Obviously not experience or been bright is required.

    "Murray showed signs on getting back to his best in Madrid last week" What signs were those? I think the whole world missed those. Raffa was injured last year and so far is doing very well so that is what I would call "showing signs of getting back" yet poor Andy is placed on a pedestal to once again fall like a rotten coconut.
    The UK media should put less pressure on the lad. Let his talent make him win again and hopefully bring a GS back to the mother land. SO put a total stop to comments like this one "his final serious match before his French Open campaign begins, he played really, really well.." Doesn't get more ironic than this.
    Then Rafa played REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY WELL."
    I don't care how many "really" you ad in there but Andy is loosing before the 1/4 finals yet you are talking as if he won the tournament of made it to the finals 3 or 6 times back to back.

  • Comment number 21.

    Also worth adding that the French have some genuine cause to moan about Gasquet. Complete waste of a world class talent. Murray on the other hand is fulfilling his talent, yet can be completely destroyed in the media here because he can't quite break the duopoly of Federer and Nadal, two of the best players ever to play the game.

    In short I'm saying you lot are a disgrace to yourselves and your nation :-)

  • Comment number 22.

    Jagsman you are confusing things. Plenty of people, including me, want Andy to win but not given the tittle by the BBC, any other UK media or his fans. Also you are soooo wrong here and hey I am not from Spain but I think is a great nation with wonderful food, wine and women and brilliant weather and happy people.
    Your comment " I guarntee you the Spanish equivalent of he BBC will mainly focus on Nadal so go there Murray haters!!" You cant compare Raffa or Fed or so many other players to Andy at all. Specially Raffa and Fed who are two of the best players of all time. Raffa is still getting there but at almost 24 he has done for Tennis what most players will never accomplish on their careers. SO if fair that any media, specially the Spanish media, talks about Raffa that way. So far Andy is not playing "really really well" or showing any signs of getting back as this article illustrates. There is nothing fair about the writing in here. In fact is a bit comical and that is a shame since Andy is a talented player but with less pressure he would do better.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was looking forward to watching lots of Murray Grand Slam finals, and hopefully to see him winning a couple, maybe even Wimbledon. But I don't like hearing about the problems with his knees. Much like Nadal, his physical frailties will only get worse the older he gets.

  • Comment number 24.

    Can't believe the BBC are wasting web-space commenting on our only British hope in the modern game. Like him or not, Andy is among the best players in the world. Fact.

    He might not have shown the best form on clay but I'm sure it's in the BBC's best interest to highlight (and even 'big-up') the only player we have that even has a sniff of winning a title - grand slam or otherwise.

    If you're accusing the BBC of using outrageous hyperbole on a sportsman who has actually reached two major finals in the past 50 years, I trust you'll be venting the same bile when the World Cup starts...

  • Comment number 25.

    Oops, nasty draw. Murray would in theory play a top-10 player in all but the second round. Not even his most enthusiastic fans, of which I may be one, would believe he'll actually get through the first week here, not when EVERY match from round 1 is so tough.

    @ el che, who wrote "You cant compare Raffa (sic) or Fed or so many other players to Andy at all." Agreed re: Rafa and Fed, but who are these legions of other players who are so good, Murray is unworthy even to be compared with them? Del Potro? Don't make me laugh. Even Djokovic, who has a superior record, would at least bear comparison with Murray.

    "There is nothing fair about the writing in here." No argument from me, you show no sign of fairness in your writing whatever.

    Losing 2 Grand Slam finals to the GOAT doesn't make a very good player into an average one. Nor does one temporary dip in form. Sooner or later, he'll break his Slam duck, and then you'll have to find someone else to carp at.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    Would like to say to those Murray apologists that his slump in form started on the hard courts and not just due to the clay. if that was the case we needn't worry. i'm not complaining about the space given to the British number one on the BBC but the headline about him finding form when all evidence points to the opposite.
    Ferrer has had a good clay court season but he is nothing special. if that is Murray's barometer for good form well he might as well skip RG and prepare for Wimbledon.
    http://worldoftennisblog.dailymail.co.uk/2010/05/virginia-andy-has-made-mistakes.html

  • Comment number 28.


    Tim let me clarify this comment re "those other players." Yes Andy is a talented player and I mentioned that but I meant clay court players. YOU have got a bunch of other players than can clean the dirt with Andy's hair mop. Murray is not at a level in par with Ferrer, Joko, Verdasco, Almagro on the dirt surface.

    ON HC Murray can be lethal but all depends which Murray shows up. One of the biggest problem is his consistency. Play great here and there but then he takes a dip and and the rest of his game falls and his mind goes below the surface of the ocean. You can't be a champ that way or even a pretender.
    Is fair to say that ALL players and children can learn from the tenacity of Raffa. The guy could be loosing and on the verge of going home and then his spirit is lifted and he turns the match around. NEVER GIVE UP is what keeps him going even if he has to play on one leg. And when he looses, credit is given to the other player but then Nadal comes back with vengeance as if the last lost never occurred or mattered to him. That is how Andy needs to focus.
    His lack of wins is mostly a mental issue, poor training and the wrong team behind his performances. Andy should be playing more smaller venues instead of taking a break here or there hoping to be rested or to do better in another major tournament. It doesn't work out that way when you still need to stamp your name on a GS trophy. Nadal did it so did Fedex and other top players.

    IF I was Murray's coach I would hire a mental guru psych to guide him, to see things different, to be more relax and to play a game to win and if that doesnt happen to return with ferocity. That is not happening right now even when he does have the tools to have pocketed a couple GS by now. So far he is the Sergio Garcia of golf.. All that talent and not a single GS to back it up. A pity indeed.

  • Comment number 29.

    OOPS meant to say the SErgio Garcia of Tennis. But am sure you got it :)

  • Comment number 30.

    He's really not looking good going into the French. Murray is a player capable of great moments, like the ones you mentioned but doesn't have the consistancy to go all the way. When he went out last year it was pure choke artistry. He fought bravely for a break to keep him in the match and then threw it all away on a love break of his own service.

  • Comment number 31.

    Murray has a decent chance of winning a slam at some point in the next couple of years - maybe more than one - but it won't be the French Open.

  • Comment number 32.

    I LOVE IT WHEN THIS CHARMLESS IDIOT LOSES.

    ANYONE BUT MURRAY

  • Comment number 33.

    He has a fair chance of making the semis but he is still not in the same league as Nadal & Federer when they are on form.

    There is still time for him - the Fed cannot go on for ever but it will be a brave man that tells him that!

  • Comment number 34.

    Why are the British public so pessimistic? It's almost as if we don't want him to win so we can 'prove' ourselves right, that we haven't got a true winners here. It will take some luck but I think he will go close again this year, he is too good not too. We should be getting behind him. I disagree with saying "he's not in the same league as Nadal and Fed on their day." Agreed, it will be very difficult on clay. Its only a small part of the season however, Murray will have his revenge on Fed and he has beaten Nadal a couple of times on hard court now.

    I personally think he is going through the motions after the Aus open. He put alot into that and should have pushed Federer harder, Murray knows that himself but you can bet as soon as Murray gets atleast one big win against a good clay courter then it will spur him on. Gasquet seems like it will be a good test, one which - if he passes - will give him confidence.

    Good luck Andy, Keep on pushing!!

  • Comment number 35.

    Yet another article on Andy Murray, Nadal has just won all 3 clay court masters events, Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid, but you wouldn't think it looking at the BBC website. if Murray wins, he is in incredible form, if he loses he is in bad form, please start publishing new material instead of recycling the same old Andy murray rubbish

  • Comment number 36.

    I don't think Murray has a hope this year... Gasquet will be tough test first up. Its a pity Davy and del Potro are out for the best part of the season. By far the form players before their respective injuries.

  • Comment number 37.

    Its a shame you socus seem to focus soley on Murray (and Andy Murray at that), there are three British women in the main draw in the French Open and it would be nice to hear about them since theyve done so well recently.

  • Comment number 38.

    Murray would destroy most of these gumbies on asphalt. Clay really is a disgrace to tennis. Not fun to watch.

  • Comment number 39.

    Before Andy can win a grand slam, the consistancy of his serve needs to improve enormously.

    He has been playing the game since he was 5, and yet can only mange 35% of his first serves in (at some major events). This places him at an enormous disadvantage compared to those he is competing against.

    Watching Andy, at the moment, is like watching the Scotland football team in the 1978 World Cup. You know he (they) has the ability (see result against Holland). He just needs his serve to perform well to give himself a real chance. Otherwise, Andy's results will conform to those of the above mentioned football team.

  • Comment number 40.

    The title of this article is ridiculous. Murray has found his confidence maybe, but not his form.

 

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