The men’s final was really a one-sided victory for Andy Murray, though the scores didn’t look all that bad. The problem for Raonic was that he was, too often, unable to get control of the points, even with his big first serve, which missed too often and didn’t clip the corners with its usual velocity and direction. And his second serve was completely ineffective. With his wonderful two-handed backhand Andy Murray was able to hit deep returns off of it constantly. And once the rallies started from a neutral position, Milos Raonic was in big trouble. Trading with Murray on the baseline was a losing proposition for him.
This match had a completely different shape from most of Raonic’s matches. Normally, he wins most of his service games at love or 15 by bombing in a few unreturnable serves and a few where his opponent hits short and he can come to net behind heat. (Occasionally he misses a few first serves and his opponent gets into the game, but he usually serves his way out of trouble anyway.) On the other hand, he often gets into the game on his opponent’s serve and makes him work to win it. Here it was the opposite. Murray was holding easily and Raonic was doing the work on his own serve.
On the baseline, Raonic’s main problem was that Murray’s flexible and accurate two-handed backhand easily neutralized Raonic’s main strength, which is his inside-out forehand. Raonic found himself too often on the defense, and it didn’t look good for him to see him scrambling around the baseline chipping backhands. Raonic’s other problem there was that Murray was simply too mobile, deadly accurate and consistent with his groundstrokes.
As for Raonic’s net attack, it was simply not good enough today for the situations Raonic often found himself in at net. His volley is not yet secure enough to be consistently effective when an opponent of Murray’s quality forces him to hit his first volley from below the net. And this happened too often in this match. He needed to have Murray in more trouble after the serve or approach so he could get more floating or at least easier volleys. In some instances, Raonic forced himself to come to net on chipped approaches out of desperation because things were going so poorly trading groundstrokes with Murray. And he got hurt doing it.
I still believe Raonic is on the right track with his volley attacks. He simply needs to improve his volley so as to take some pressure off of his serve and approach shots. And he needs to serve normally, where he clips the corners with his bomber first (and even second) serves. I like it when he uses the “heater” more often, rather than trying to mix it up so much. I’m sure in the future, with more practice at the net and more comfort in these huge situations, he will be able to do this.
One final observation: Murray’s best (by far) first serve in the ad court is the slider down the middle. He loves to use it all the time. And Raonic stood to return with one foot in the middle of the alley, leaving Murray too much room for his down-the-center serve. And Murray got free point after free point with this serve (and very few wide to the backhand) with Raonic keeping his same position and allowing it to continue. This helped Murray hold serve easily.
As a general rule when receiving serve, it pays to watch the servers and figure out which serves they like – which ones they get you with the most often. And then move over physically so that they can’t get you with their “money” serves. You force them then to try to get you with the serve they don’t like as much. And often they will miss it. Here Raonic didn’t adjust and gave away too many points because of it.
That said, the final provided some beautiful moments for the champion, Andy Murray, and one of them was watching him feel the cheers of the crowd wash over him when the match ended. I hear he is a wonderful guy off the court, so it was heartwarming to see his unbridled joy. (My son, Charlie, is on the tour producing films with Justin Gimelstob, and he tells me so.) The gigantic emotional high that he felt at this time can never be replaced off the court. It’s loss is a bit of the burden the great players face after they retire. It can be quite a downer for quite a while, and it keeps some of them from putting off retirement as long as they can. Winning some matches, even though they are not the level of the Wimbledon final, still gives them a scintilla of this high, which they find preferable to none at all.
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