Sunday 31 January 2010

Will 2010 See a Change of Power in Men’s Tennis?

The 2010 Australian Open men’s singles final today between Roger Federer and Andy Murray promises to be an interesting match up. The outcome will be insightful for how the psychology between these two wonderful players plays out for the remainder of the season. Federer is 28 years old and has won 15 grand slam titles but his star may be waning. Murray is 22 years of age, has yet to win a grand slam but his star is definitely rising.

In head-to-head encounters, Murray holds a 6-4 advantage over Federer. In particular, during the 2009 season Murray probably had the best head-to-head record against Federer than any other tour player. And the 2009 version of Murray (a young buck full of bravado but lacking in fitness) certainly promoted that statistic in the first half of the 2009 season, together with some negative comments about Federer. And those comments definitely got Federer’s goat.*

What a difference a year makes. This year, it is obvious Murray has gained physical power, stamina and better overall fitness during the off season. For example, as part of his fitness regime he did interval runs of 10 x 400 meters. Each 400m run is completed within 76 seconds, with a rest period of 76 seconds, before starting the next run.

[Andy Murray trained hard during the close season; something a certain Andre Agassi did towards the twilight of his career. This approach certainly paid dividends for Agassi. Will Murray also benefit? Pic courtesy AP.]

The media are saying that Federer is piling the pressure on Murray and apparently this is something new. HKSARblog doesn’t think so. This is because Federer made similar comments about Murray this time last year when he also questioned Murray chances.

Although still a fantastic player, Federer perhaps knows that he has reached his “plateau” and that Murray now has the game and fitness to beat him. Compared with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín del Potro (who are similar ages with Murray and who also have the game and fitness to beat Federer), the main difference is that Murray has still not won a grand slam. And Federer has used this to his psychological advantage, referring to Britain’s 74-year wait for a male grand slam singles champion as a “150,000 year drought”!

Until Murray wins a grand slam, this psychological edge will remain between them. This is why it will be interesting to see whether Murray wins this time or not, and then what the outcome of this means to Federer’s psychological treatment of Murray will be.

It should be noted that Federer has always been respectful towards Murray and other opponents. Federer said this about Murray in March 2009:
"He's a great player and great players are tough to play against," he said. "He's young, so you still have to figure him out a little bit. He's changing his game as time goes by. Every time you play him, he plays a bit different.

"Whereas for me, it's different. He knows what to expect. That's the advantage of a youngster. There are disadvantages in that they're a bit more inconsistent but he's been very consistent, at a young age, which is impressive to see."

HKSARblog doesn’t usually make predictions. However, for the Aussie Open men’s final, HKSARblog will say that Murray will just edge out Federer and perhaps a power shift will ripple through the men’s game. If Federer does win, then Murray will have to endure “Britain's 150,00 year drought” a little while longer!

Note: This photo of Andy Murray (after a wonderful rally with Marin Cilic that saw Murray at the net race back to the baseline and deliver a passing shot) “looks” so much better when played with this sound clip. Murray did not bother doing a 'Hotdog', as Federer is strangely inclined to do in similar circumstances.

[Andy Murray reacts after winning a point against Marin Cilic during his 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 semi-final victory. Photo: Reuters.]

* HKSARblog understands Federer also has a cow. Called Daisy, allegedly.

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