Andrew Castle may be best known nowadays as one of the sport’s leading commentators but back in the day he serve-volleyed his way into the world’s top 100 in singles and won three ATP Tour doubles titles. With the first week of the clay-court season done and dusted, Castle gives The Tennis Space an insight into what we can read into Monte Carlo’s results and what we can expect in the weeks to come.
There is no reason why Andy Murray can’t win the French Open. He made the semis last year so I don’t think he’s doing too much wrong. The guy’s better than everyone else (outside the top three). What if Federer gets flu, or if Rafa has a bad knee, which is going to happen more and more, probably. What if Djokovic is in the other half and somebody beats him?
The trouble is there are three of them, which means there’s one in his half and two in the other. It’s very unfair – maybe there should be a rule that if you win more than four slams, you have to take a slam off and let somebody else win. But the great thing for Andy is just grind the hours, work it, deal with the frustration, handle everything and he’ll certainly get stronger and have more belief in his game so that he is ready for the ones that he is much more likely to win – Wimbledon and the US Open.
I always think it’s a good idea to see Murray coming forward a little bit more because he’s got a great volley. As you try to make adjustments, you don’t just click a switch and it happens immediately. I believe Lendl is adding things, to the aggressive part of his game, including hitting the forehand, stepping up, maybe six inches into the court so he’s taking a slightly earlier ball on the forehand.
But these take a long time to add. I remember trying to change my grip by a tiny amount on the forehand side – I should have done it years before, I was moving away from the continental grip, basically – but it takes a long time to believe in it. If the changes are right, they will fit in. Does Murray need to come to the net more? He’s well capable but these guys are passing so well, people are hitting the ball so hard, it’s not easy to get in. You really need to come in on a big hit and have a put-away volley.
On a clay court, doesn’t matter who you are, to come in and make a volley work for you to open up the court and then hit a winning volley is not a play you’ll see too much. Variety is important but will coaches now teach people to volley more because of the sheer athleticism of guys at the back of the court? No I just think the training’s going to get even better and the physicality is going to keep improving at the back. Unless some guy comes out like a 6ft 9, 6ft 10, like a John Isner. He’s got natural assets that can go right through those guys. But how many times out of 10? You basically need to play out of your mind.
In Monte Carlo Novak only managed to find third gear. I know for a lot of reasons it was quite a difficult week for him and he did well to come through it. Such is the way he moves around the court and his supreme technical ability that he is still better than everybody else on clay apart from Rafa. I saw the same thing with Djokovic versus Nadal in this match as I saw as Djokovic versus Murray in Dubai. Nice, friendly handshake at the end, no problem and I’ll see you at Roland Garros, really.
You cannot give 100 percent, I am talking about digging deep, deep, deep, every time you play. I just think you’ve got to time your effort, whatever level you’re at, whether it’s world No 1 or club level, you’re playing day in, day out, you’ve got to understand your rhythms. I mean, why would he want to dig deep, Australian Open deep?
If he did that, the season would be over by May, rather than him looking to peak. I am not taking anything away from Nadal. I actually said I thought Nadal would win one (of the clay-court Masters) but I don’t think it’s going to have any relevance at all. If that had been the French Open final, Djokovic would have gone deeper. All it tells us is that Djokovic knows how to time his effort.
Of course it’s massive for Nadal psychologically. I saw him face to face at Wimbledon after he lost and that was not a face that I was used to seeing at all from him. He just said ‘I need to find a solution’. Winning again in Monte Carlo is an interesting story for the public, it’s good for telly and it’s good for the game but he has not really found the way to beat Djokovic yet, not when it matters.
For Djokovic, it’s strange, you can win seven in a row but the monkey in the room is ‘when are you going to lose’? You don’t want to get to the French Open final and lose one. He’s not going to beat Rafa every single time. The loss is out of the way, now, the pressure is off. It’s all about managing and peaking at the right time.