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Brain Game: Out Wide Serve Propels Murray

US Open

Murray© Getty ImagesKnown for his return game, it was Andy Murray's serve that carried him to his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.

Craig O'Shannessy breaks down the US Open final.

Andy Murray is one of the best returners in the game but it was his serve that carried him to his first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open Monday evening.

Murray won the first two sets 7-6 (10), 7-5 but Novak Djokovic rebounded to win the next two 6-2, 6-3 in very blustery conditions, so a fifth set was needed for the third time in 22 years to decide the champion.

Murray was under attack headed into the fifth and needed to find a way to wrestle back the momentum, keep the points short, and keep Djokovic off the net.

Murray’s first serve, particularly hitting his spots out wide, was the perfect way to gain back control and minimize the effectiveness of Djokovic’s aggressive play. It would prove to be the difference between the two players in the deciding set and change the flow of play much more to suit Murray. Murray did get broken once in the fifth set, but was able to break three times off just three break points.

Murray served brilliantly in the fifth set, stretching Djokovic out wide in both courts with his first serve - which also had the added benefit of pressuring Djokovic into his poorest serving performance of any set of the match. Murray regained his confidence through his first serve, which washed over the rest of his game and carried to him to an epic victory.

Fifth Set – Murray 1st Serve Location

LocationMade/AttemptedWon
Deuce Court Wide 5/5 4/5 (80%)
Ad Court Wide 5/7 5/5 (100%)
Deuce Court Middle 1/4 1/1 (100%)
Ad Court Middle 2/2 0/2 (0%)

Murray won a dominating 9/10 (90%) when he made his first serve out wide in the fifth set. It was the engine room of his stunning performance.

In the deuce court he also was able to force three forehand return errors to begin the point. In the Ad court he was just as lethal – hitting two aces and also forcing another return error.

Murray went out wide twice as much as down the middle (12 to 6), but the middle serves still played their role in keeping Djokovic guessing as to where the serve might go. They were a bluff as he only won one point serving down the middle in the fifth set.

Murray made 70% of his first serves in the pressure-packed fifth set, winning 71% of them, which was the highest winning percentage of any set he played. This greatly reduced his exposure to his second serve, as he only had to hit six of them for the entire set, winning three (50%).

This also had an impact on Djokovic’s serve as well.

Djokovic made 83% of his first serves in the fourth set, winning 67% of them. But the fifth set was a completely different story where he made only 45% first serves, winning 38%. Djokovic hit five second serves in the fourth set, but that more than tripled to 16 in the fifth set, where he managed to win seven (44%). In none of the five sets did both players serve well at the same time, so it was a critical component of Murray’s victory to own this area of the match in the fifth set.

Fifth Set – Djokovic 1st Serve Location

LocationMade/AttemptedWon
Deuce Court Wide 3/4 1/3 (33%)
Ad Court Wide 0/4 0/0 (0%)
Deuce Court Middle 3/7 2/3 (66%)
Ad Court Middle 3/7 1/3 (33%)

Djokovic struggled mightily with his serve location in the fifth set, only winning five points on his first serve for the set and only one of them out wide in either court.

This greatly impacted the pressure on Murray’s return, where he only made two return errors in the fifth set – both routine forehand errors off second serves.

By contrast, Murray forced six return errors from Djokovic – five from his first serve and one from his second serve. All four of Djokovic’s forehand return errors were in the deuce court, including on match point when Djokovic unloaded on a second serve return that went long and handed Murray the title.

Serving out wide in both courts was something that worked well for Murray throughout the match, but became much more of a weapon when he really needed it in the fifth set.

Entire Match – Murray 1st Serve Location

LocationMade/AttemptedWon
Deuce Court Wide 28/41 19/28 (67%)
Ad Court Wide 12/22 9/12 (75%)
Deuce Court Middle 6/17 5/6 (83%)
Ad Court Middle 27/33 15/27 (55%)

Murray is not ranked in the Top 10 in any of the Ricoh ATP MatchFacts serving categories in 2012, but features in the Top 10 in three of the four return categories – including number one in the world in points won returning second serves at 57%.

He will have newfound confidence in his serve from winning his first Grand Slam title and will rely on it heavily as he makes a genuine run at the number one ranking in the world in the coming months.

Craig O'Shannessy is the founder of the Brain Game , a tennis analysis website that uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game.

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Brain Game, Andy Murray

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