US Open: In praise of Andy Murray

Andy Murray's straight-sets dismantling of Milos Raonic inside the Arthur Ashe stadium should be classified as a work of art.

Murray serves up...
Abhishek Mehrotra

By Abhishek Mehrotra

He may mutter, and he may complain. His demeanour may remind viewers of Douglas' Adams Marvin the Paranoid Android - but when Murray puts on a show, like he did on Monday, it's riveting to watch. Up against a bigger, more powerful opponent, the leader of the young brigade that is supposed to carry the game into the future, Murray unfurled all of the considerable versatility at his disposal for an awe-inspiring performance.

So many are the facets of his game, and so refined, each would have had the fans and media slobbering over it in any other era. But Murray is part of a generation with players who are just that tiny bit better than him at virtually everything. No one returns better than Djokovic. No one can hunt down the ball like Nadal. No one possesses more variety than Federer. 

Murray? He's the drama queen, the whiner, the complainer, the nattering nabob of negativity - to borrow from William Safire, or the groaning grump of Glasgow, if you like that kind of thing. So much so that his persona overshadows his game. 

I asked Stephen Tignor, the author of High Strung - a book that looks back at the riotous tennis era of the 70s and early 80s- and a journalist who has been writing on the game since 2003, whether the media makes too much of Murray's negativity.

"I guess you have to look at the pattern of his matches, and the things he says," he told me.

"He does have a pessimistic worldview. You might say it's realistic, but on a tennis court he gets pessimistic. I think it's fair to say that that hasn't helped him. He's looking for reasons to get mad. Compare that to Nadal or Federer - they don't get pessimistic. They get angry, but they don't get negative like Murray does. And if you compare their success to Murray's success - so I think that is a fair thing [that Murray is too negative] to say."

There were a few frustrated spins of the racket against Raonic, but largely those demons stayed away. Murray had 31 winners to Raonic's 34 but only 12 unforced errors to the Canadian's 27. Murray won more points on the first serve (88%) than Raonic (70%) and did not face a single break point while creating 12 chances for himself. 

The statistics tell the story of his domination - but fail to convey the precision and beauty with which Murray sliced his young foe open.

There were chipped backhands, and feathery drops, winners from the flanks and winners from the centre. There were sliding serves out wide, and there were bombs down the middle. Every shot was played with a purpose - of pulling and stretching; of drawing in Raonic - taking full advantage of the 22-year-old's poor mobility. More often than not, that purpose was met. Confronted with such guile, the young cannonballer was helpless.

It wasn't all cold cuts. Murray provided some moments of flair too.

In the second game of the second set, with Murray at the net, Raonic did superbly to pull out a lob on the run. Murray sprinted back, swivelled, as the ESPNSTAR.com match report put it, on a sixpence, before rifling a forehand winner down the line.

Later, in the third set, Raonic in a last-ditch effort to salvage something from the match, was 15-30 on the Murray serve and rushed to the net on the back of a deep, ferocious forehand. Murray with no time to adjust his feet, crouched low, shortened his swing and came up with a half-volley backhand passing shot from the back of the court. Had it been Federer, the crowd would have sighed in admiration; had it been Nadal, the crowd would have roared. Murray got polite applause.

Later, Raonic said: "When I did get ahead on critical moments, he just did things I really have no answer for, something I really hadn't experienced."

In our part of the world, we usually watch Murray when he's up against the Big Three. And so besotted are we with Federer, Nadal and to a lesser extent, Djokovic, that the Scot is seen solely as an obstacle to the higher octane clashes rather than an artist unto himself.

But watching him so craftily take down the leading light of the next generation, watching him somehow return thunderous serves and whip back into position for the next shot, watching those top-spin forehands draw out an arc, dip and find seemingly impossible angles on the court, it was impossible not to be wowed.

Forget the dour interviews and the surly demeanour. Just watch Andy Murray for the sparkle of his game. I promise you won't be disappointed.



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