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Brain Game: Murray Dominates With Service Return

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Murray© Getty ImagesAndy Murray has won 42 per cent of points while returning first serves, leading the field during this year's Championships.

Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy breaks down the big matches each day during The Championships.

Centre Court at Wimbledon used to be a haven for the biggest servers in the world. Not so anymore.

Andy Murray moved through to the quarter-finals at The Championships with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory over Kevin Anderson on the back of yet another dominant return performance.

Murray is well on track to repeat as Wimbledon champion as the tournament’s best returner so far. He is leading the event with return points won against first serves at 42 per cent (93/222), return games won at 45 per cent (24/53) and is tied for fifth with return points won against second serves at 58 per cent (80/138). He knows how to dismantle a bomb of a first serve with blocking returns as good as anyone in the game.

The days of Ivanisevic, Rafter, Sampras and Krajicek seem a distant memory as Murray leads the current charge of dominant counter-punchers who have swung the pendulum to the returning side, even on Wimbledon’s famous grass courts.

Against Anderson, Murray actually took the honours on both sides of the court. Murray served 11 aces to the South African’s nine, had 40 per cent of his serves unreturned to Anderson’s 27 per cent and dominated on first serves, winning 81 per cent (55/68) to Anderson’s 65 per cent (81/125). Murray was only broken once in 15 games, only facing three break points, while Anderson had to defend a massive 19 break points, ultimately yielding four.

Murray has developed into a very accomplished server but his return game will always bring the most pressure to his matches. It all starts with simply getting the ball back in the court. Against Anderson’s dominant, high-bouncing serves, Murray only missed putting back into play 27 per cent (34/125) of his returns. Anderson lost this battle too, missing 40 per cent (36/91), instantly falling in a deep hole trying to make an impression in Murray’s service games.

Once the rally started Murray again took the honours. The Brit dominated the eventual Ad Court backhand-to-backhand exchanges, hitting eight backhand winners to Anderson’s four, only making four backhand unforced errors in three sets to Anderson’s 11.

One might think Anderson would be able to get ahead on the shorter points lasting up to four shots but Murray owned this area as well, winning 80 points to 68. Anderson wisely came to the net as much as possible, winning 64 per cent (34/53) and probably should have come in even more than that.

The dilemma for big servers is what do they do once the rally begins: Murray won 50 per cent (64/125) of points that ended with him at the baseline while Anderson could only manage 32 per cent (29/88). It’s hard for Anderson to get ahead when Murray takes the honours at almost every turn.

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DjokovicDjokovic Locks Down

Novak Djokovic defeated a dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5) to advance to the quarter-finals where he will play No. 26 seed Marin Cilic. Djokovic dominated the opening two sets and held off a fast-finishing Tsonga in a close third-set tie-breaker.

“We both served very well in the tie-break, and the only opportunity I had was on a second serve at 6-5, and I used it. I went for the shot,” Djokovic said. “I’m just glad that I didn’t allow him to go into the fourth set, because he started to use obviously the crowd support. And I knew that he’s going to do that because he’s the kind of player that feeds off the energy, so it was very important to get this done in straight sets.”

Djokovic was extremely strong closing the match out and saved the only two break points he faced for the match in the third set – winning all 16 of his service games.

Djokovic’s backhand was once again a rock, hitting 10 winners (Tsonga had four) and only committing three unforced errors for the match. True to the earlier rounds, Djokovic continued to attack the net, winning 87 per cent (21/24), which was much better than the Frenchman, who only won 50 per cent (9/16) at the net.

Surprisingly Tsonga won more points from the back of the court (38 to 33) with exactly half (19) coming in the third set when he surged with the crowd support who were looking to see more tennis from these two leading players at The Championships.

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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