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Brain Game: Murray’s Brick-Wall Backhand

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Murray© Getty ImagesAndy Murray locked down the baseline against David Goffin.

Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy will break down the big matches each day during The Championships, beginning today with opening-round victories for defending champion Andy Murray and top seed Novak Djokovic.

Andy Murray’s Wimbledon defense got off a flying start today as he locked down the baseline against David Goffin for a 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Murray won 69% (53/77) of points with both players trading groundstrokes at the back of the court, with his backhand in particular standing tall in the first Centre Court match of The Championships. Murray constantly switched between a heavy slice backhand that stayed low on the fresh grass and a driving groundstroke aimed to rush Goffin in their regular Ad court exchanges.  

Murray hit four backhand winners for the match but more importantly only committed four unforced errors in three sets, giving Goffin no breathing room to construct points and find a crack in Murray’s defense. Murray hit 196 backhands for the match compared to 179 forehands, meaning he committed a winner and an unforced error about every 45 backhands. There are not too many players on the planet that can hang with that kind of consistency.

Murray won 60% of points lasting between 1-4 shots, 61% of rallies between 5-8 shots and 60% of rallies lasting longer than nine shots. The ball just kept coming back for Goffin as he committed 36 forehand and 30 backhand errors trying to go for something a little bit too special against the reigning Wimbledon champion.

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Goffin could only manage 12 groundstroke winners (six forehand and backhand) and wisely turned to the front of the court to try and stay alive in the match. While Murray only approached 15 times, (won nine), Goffin cleverly snuck in to the net 34 times, winning a respectable 65% (22), mainly with sharp, angled volleys. But Goffin always had the pressure of playing from behind and could only manage to see two break points for the match and was not able to convert either one.

In an ominous sign for the rest of the field, Murray also served particularly well, making 71% of first serves - only dropping eight points on his first serve for the entire match. Murray served 62% down the centre T, 35% out wide and only 2% at the body for the match. That’s a fairly normal mix on grass as a quality serve down the center is enhanced by the speed of the court. Murray’s second serve was typically quite slow, averaging only 83 mph compared to Goffin’s 94 mph, but Murray still managed to win a very healthy 61% of those points to Goffin’s 48%.

Novak Djokovic defeated Andrey Golubev 6-0, 6-1, 6-4

The No. 1 seed at one stage led 6-0, 5-0 in a very dominant display and didn’t face a break point for the entire match, while converting 6/15 of his break point opportunities. Djokovic served particularly well with a staggering 40% (25/62) of his serves unreturned for the match. The Serb only dropped six points in 12 service games on his second serve as Golubev, like Goffin, was constantly pressing to go for something a little too special to get ahead in the point, only to barely miss.

In a clearly defined pattern of play, Djokovic would almost always go crosscourt when he was caught on defense while Golubev would try and squeeze a shot down the line that invariably drifted wide. It was in these moments that the level of play and expectations for the tournament were illuminated.

Even though it felt like Golubev was always chasing the winner, Djokovic actually hit more than double the winners of his opponent with 34 to 15. It goes to show that pulling the trigger too much can be extremely counter-productive. Djokovic won 64% (69/108) of rallies lasting 1-4 shots, which represented a massive 72% of total points played. Only 10 points for the match developed past nine shots, which amazingly Golubev held the edge seven to three.

Fabio Fognini defeated Alex Kuznetsov 2-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 9-7

FogniniNo. 16 seed, Fabio Fognini came back from two sets down and a break in the fifth set to pull out a dramatic victory 9-7 in the deciding set. In almost every area of the match Kuznetsov won the small battles but failed to close out the flamboyant Italian. Fognini won eight points less for the match, hit 19 less winners (62 to 43), won one less baseline point (70 to 69) and two less net points (22 to 20) but employed figured out a way to reach the finish line.

Fognini’s main area of advantage was limiting unforced errors, where he only made 27 (20 forehand/7 backhand) to Kuznetsov’s 43 (23 forehand/20 backhand). Committing just seven unforced backhand errors in five sets kept the Italian alive more than anything else he did in the match. 

Brain GameCraig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at

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