So here we are again. Twelve months ago, Andy Murray took to Wimbledon’s Centre Court to face Rafael Nadal, the hunky, chunky piece of Majorcan racket wizardry. Keen tennis observers felt that it was to be Murray’s watershed moment; the moment he would give the British public the sight of one of their own competing in the sport’s most prestigious showpiece event.
It wasn’t to be for Murray that day. He was swatted aside effortlessly by Nadal. The 7-6 6-4 6-4 scoreline didn’t do justice to the superiority enjoyed by the Spaniard.
One year on and Murray will once again seek to upset the odds and land a place in his fourth grand slam final. He could not be better prepared. Last month he competed admirably at the French Open, reaching the semi final stage for the first time in his career, succumbing at the penultimate stage to his Spanish adversary.
A week after his Parisian sojourn, Murray was delighting the blazers and gin brigade of Kensington as he lifted his second Queen’s trophy, battling past French maverick Jo Wilfried Tsonga to wrap up his preparation for the All England club.
Murray has jogged his way through Wimbledon so far, dropping the odd set here and there but never really looking troubled. Ditto his opponent today. Wobbles against Juan Martin del Potro and Mardy Fish were just a slight detour on Nadal’s route to the semi final.
So we wait once more with fevered excitement. Living rooms all over the country will think maybe, just maybe.
Forget the comparisons with Henman, turn a blind eye to the achievements of Perry, today is about Murray. Nostalgia will win zip, sentiment will be punished; Nadal really is the most ruthless of competitors.
But how can the kid from Dunblane topple the man that many now refer to as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)?
Murray’s serve will be crucial. When his first serve percentage drops, the huffs, whines and defeats inevitably follow. Nadal is extremely adept on the stretch and the game has never before seen a man who can eek an extra few centimetres from his arms the way he can. It might be an idea for Murray to pepper the Spaniard with serves to the body when serving to the deuce court to try to choke him and restrict the full swing he thrives on when given space.
It’s rare to see Murray serve anywhere but out wide on the advantage court. It’s a serve that often digs him out of trouble when faced with a break point and it will need to be at its best if he’s to stave off Nadal’s endeavours today.
The return of serve is only slightly less crucial than the serve itself for Murray. Thankfully for him he is regarded as having the best return in today’s game. He must use it to pounce on Nadal, particularly on the second serve.
Although he has upped his speed of serve in the lat 12 months by flattening it off, it remains one of Nadal’s very slight weak spots and his reliance on spin regularly leads to the ball sitting up, even on the relatively ‘dead’ grass surface of SW19’s beautifully manicured lawns. Murray has to be aggressive on the return and use it pin Nadal behind the baseline as quickly as possible.
Nadal’s main strengths are his movement and his ability to strike the ball on the run to make it appear as if he has ran round the net and placed the ball exactly where he wants it to land. Yes, Murray must keep Nadal on his toes but giving him width is a dangerous tactic if anything drops short.
Nadal has such quick feet that he thrives on the chance of moving round to hit an outside-in forehand to make the short wide angle and take his opponent out the game. Murray must prevent this scenario and concentrate on depth by almost forcing the Spaniard to rub his back against the line judges six feet behind the baseline.
But aside from specific shot strategies, Murray must bring his mental ‘A’ game to the court. Concentration and mental strength have often let Murray down in the past. He regularly seems to meander down a route of self inflicted psychological torture which manifests itself into on-court displays of petulant huffs. You rarely see this with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Nadal and it remains the one deficiency that often hampers the Scotsman during the most crucial moments.
With the margins of success and failure as narrow as a camel’s derriere in a sandstorm, Murray must remain composed enough to compete with Nadal during the big points. In the past, Murray has failed to convert the opportunities given to him.
His record of squandering break points on the biggest stage is unenviable. Murray won’t get many chances against Nadal therefore it’s crucial that when he gets just the slightest whiff of vulnerability from across the net he can batter on through to the next game.
Murray’s belief is there. He still truly feels that he can become the best player in the world and there is nothing to suggest otherwise were it not for the sustained brilliance of Federer and Nadal.
It will take more than just belief for Murray to succeed though. He must be strategically astute and mature enough to ask questions of Nadal on what is without doubt the biggest stage.
The nation, once again, is waiting for a British Wimbledon winner. Is this Murray’s year? One step at a time, he needs to tame the GOAT first.