Roddick’s Loss Betrays Strategic Shortcomings
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Many an American tennis fan spent this holiday weekend wondering how it was that Andy Roddick, a finalist at Wimbledon two straight years and a semifinalist before that, could not put many balls past Andy Murray, the Scotsman with the soft hands and soft physique.
Roddick sounded dejected after the straight sets defeat, saying he had lost his edge. He berated himself for terrible volleys, especially in the first set (he won only 28 of 59 points at the net, 47%). He also praised Murray for stupendous passing shots and lobs.
Rather than talk about edge, that intangible element that might magically return after a handful of wins on the hard courts later this summer, we’ll concentrate on something more concrete: Roddick’s strategy, both on his serve and during play.
In terms of percentages, Roddick served quite well against Murray. He made 69% of his first serves, collected 21 aces, and double faulted three times. His average first-serve speed was 129 mph, while his second serve averaged 108 mph.
Yet Roddick won only 73% of points on his first serve, compared to his season average of 78%, and a pathetic 40% on his second. At age 19, Murray has shown signs of becoming one of the best returners on tour, and leading up to this match at Wimbledon, his backhand return had outshined his forehand. Yet Roddick played 60% of the 110 points on his serve to Murray’s backhand. Murray put 47 of those 66 backhand returns in play, a rate of 71%. Once he returned the ball on the backhand side, he won 55% of those points. On the forehand, he put 29 of 44 serves in play, 66%. He won 13 of those 29 points (45%). Incredibly, Roddick served to the backhand more frequently as the match progressed, 73% in the third set. Murray returned 77% of those serves (23 of 30), and once the ball was in play, he won 15 of those points (65%).
Of course, a point is not won based on where a serve lands or whether it is returned. But Roddick’s serve placement affected the rest of his game. He complained that he followed any number of booming forehands in to net, only to watch Murray angle the ball past him. Indeed, Roddick only hit six baseline winners in the match, compared to 30 – yes, 30 – for Murray. But hitting winners has less to do with how hard one hits the ball than how much one can move his opponent out of position before striking.
If Roddick had pulled Murray off court with more slice serves in the deuce court, perhaps he would have had more room to hit his forehand to the opposite court for a winner. Perhaps he should have given Murray less room to extend his hands by serving more to the body (Roddick hit 45% of his serves down the center line, 43% out wide, and 12% to the body). Marcos Baghdatis, who trounced Murray on Monday, hit 57% of his serves out wide and served mostly to Murray’s forehand in the first two sets, before changing over to the backhand side in the final set.
While Roddick was right to blame his volleys, his approach shots were a bigger problem. A player like Roddick should not charge in behind balls that likely will leave him looking at a difficult volley. His opponent needs to be in a defensive position. Murray hit a few winners from difficult spots, but more of them came when he had a chance to take a good cut at the ball. Roddick approached the net from the baseline 65 times, and only won 33 of them (51%). That figure ought to be 70% or above. If it had been, Roddick might be setting off fireworks in London, rather than watching them at home.