Murray urged to ditch clever stuff and nurture killer instinct on court
Australian Open great Max Wilander has some advice for the Scot, says Simon Briggs
Andy Murray is known for being one of tennis's great problem-solvers, a man who can unlock the game of almost any opponent like a safe-cracker armed with a stethoscope.
But is this versatility always an advantage? In the view of Mats Wilander, a three-time winner here at the Australian Open, Murray needs to let go of his chameleon instincts if he is going to unlock his full potential as a multiple Grand Slam champion.
"In today's game, variety can hurt you," Wilander says. "Andy is such a clever tennis player, but when you get to the very highest level, sometimes you have to let go of the brain. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are unbelievable at letting that happen, whereas Andy is sometimes too smart for his own good."
Instinct is a powerful force in sport, and it tends to resurface when an athlete is under pressure. Murray certainly felt that way yesterday against Ricardas Berankis, the little-known Lithuanian who played a fine match on Rod Laver Arena, and his response was to revert to a safety-first game with plenty of chess-like rallies.
This was effective enough to bring him a straight-sets win, but in the long term Murray's coach Ivan Lendl is trying to programme him to be more assertive. Lendl wants him to flatten his opponents like a juggernaut rather than inflicting death by a thousand cuts.
"As long as he has Ivan on his side I expect Andy to make serious leaps forward," says Wilander, who is commentating on the Australian Open for the Eurosport channel. "Not just in tennis but in the other things that go on outside the lines.
"Andy is already a fantastic player and yet there is still so much room for improvement. The forehand can be better, the backhand can be more aggressive, the first serve can be safer, the second serve can have more kick to it. If I was Ivan, I'd say to him, 'Why on earth don't you risk coming to the net sometimes when you most probably volley the best of all the guys?' And the last thing is, 'Don't let your chin drop'.
"When you compare Andy to Novak – which is the rivalry I expect to see dominating this season – Andy is much more of a 'player' in terms of the variety he has. But that's not always a good thing unless you're playing badly, or you need the other guy to start playing worse, which is when it comes in useful.
"If you look at Novak, he is as light as a feather, he takes the ball early and he just goes 'peck, peck, peck', like an irritating woodpecker. When you're playing against him, he never gives you anything.
"He has changed that around since his younger days, while Andy still shows little signs of distress that his opponents can pick up on. Professional tennis players don't miss anything: they've been playing this game since they were five years old and they will say, 'Woah, did you see that? He just dropped something there. That's where I've got to go at him'. But if Novak can turn that around then so can Andy. And that's where Ivan is the man to help him.
"It's got to start in training. Andy is too used to going, 'Oh no' – that first reaction when he makes a mistake. Just don't do it, and eventually it will stop. Ivan did the same thing early on, then he stopped at 24, when he won his first major. Suddenly he turned into a guy who thought he deserved to win.
"Ivan is trying to programme Andy to be more direct on the court. The message is, 'If playing the ball from A-to-B works, keep going until A-to-B doesn't work, and then maybe you go A-to-L'. That's when the brain has to take over.
"But A-to-B should be the natural instinct. Just do what we've done in practice – bang, bang. Andy has to allow that to happen early in matches, especially against Novak and Roger. Because if he lets the brain take over, they're going to let their natural instinct take over and just play. And that's usually better than Andy's brain.
"As a connoisseur of tennis, I'll be sorry to see fewer of the trick shots and unusual ploys. But for him it is better to play simpler: get on the court and off again, like Novak does.
Sunday Indo Sport