© Ella Ling

Andy Murray - defeat

Is drilling your opponent a legitimate tactic?


Had Andy Murray beaten Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, we would have heard a lot more about that moment on Centre Court when the Scot deliberately and unashamedly lashed a ball straight at his opponent – for once, the Swiss could not be praised for his movement, for these is no grace or elegance in ducking or throwing yourself to the floor. Was that the moment, people would have pondered afterwards, when Murray dared to physically confront Federer’s genius?

That was just a round after Murray slammed the ball at Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and struck him in the Slazengers (the Frenchman curled up into a ball on the grass). Tennis is still unclear what it thinks about drilling the ball at an opponent. There is a school of thought that many tennis players were drawn to the sport because it’s a non-contact sport, because they like the physical barrier of the net between them and their opponent. No wonder they are uncomfortable with the idea that every forehand at close range is potentially the tennis equivalent of a paintball kill-shot.
So some see it as a legitimate play, and others plainly don’t. That much was clear at the Australian Open this year when Tomas Berdych took exception at being struck by Nicolas Almagro, with the Czech refusing to shake the Spaniard’s hand because he hadn’t much enjoyed the experience. If Murray’s Wimbledon is anything to go by, he is going to carry on playing the shot. That’s partly because of the influence of his coach, Ivan Lendl, who doesn’t believe that tennis has to be a non-contact sport. “All he wants to do is hit people he’s practising with,” Murray has said.

“He’s been trying to get me to do it. He’s like: ‘As soon as this guy comes to the net, just try and hit him.’ That’s more his sense of humour. If he gets hit with the ball his reaction is not: ‘Ow, that’s sore.’ It’s to laugh. That’s what gets him going, I guess, weird things like that. I’ve hit a few guys, but not like the way he hits them. If I was at the back of the court and they were at the net, I’d just be hitting hard at them. I’ve always done that. But if a ball pops up on top of the net [his aim] is just to absolutely nail them. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of him hitting Vitas Gerulaitis on the forehead in matches. That’s what he loved doing. Almost every player I’ve spoken to has a story about him hitting them in practice. It’s what he did.”
Mostly, though, Murray will hit the ball hard at an opponent because it’s a good tactic – it’s the best way of winning a point. While drilling your opponent is not going to win you many friends at your local tennis club, Berdych and all other professionals should accept that there is nothing wrong with the play when you’re at Wimbledon or anywhere else on the tour. More than anything, it’s entertaining for those watching.

Someone please sponsor Jonny Marray, one half of the wild card pairing who won the men’s doubles title at Wimbledon. Marray has said he receives free contact lenses from an opticians in Sheffield, “but what would other sponsors get out of sponsoring me?” No one does self-deprecation like the British, but surely Marray must appreciate that everyone warmed to his story at Wimbledon, and there is every chance that he could end up playing at the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November.

  • adb

    While Fed didn’t seem to take offense at the shot straight at his head — he’s been known to drill shots at opponents chests or stomachs (no higher, no lower), I am offended at shots to body parts that are particularly vulnerable.  That includes, on the the head, the eyes and ears, or perhaps a bloody nose.  A shot that’s fired at a larynx could cause real damage and inability to breathe.  A shot to Tsonga’s nether region seemed unsportsmanlike, and it put him out of commission for a bit.  He was a trouper, but was never the same after getting hit.

    I think Murray, who always seemed more sportsmanlike prior to Lendl, needs to take his coach in hand on this maneuver; after all, Lendl’s his employee.  Want to drill you opponent at the net?  Aim for the torso (upper) or a shoulder.  Tennis is not this kind of sport, like hockey, nor should it be.  I think this is Lendl’s influence.  It sure won’t earn Murray any ‘Edberg Sportsmanship’ awards from the ATP, and after reading your article, shows me why Murray hasn’t done more; at heart, he’s an adolescent.  One should be selective at which part of the opponent’s body he wants to aim at.  If he makes an error and hits something vital, he should apologize like hell.  He hasn’t got it yet that some shots are just unsportsman-like, and inappropriate for tennis.

    We don’t seem to have these discussions re women’s singles very often.  Wonder why?  Perhaps, more evolved.   Maybe his mom needs to have a talk with him about this.  It’s not tennis, Lendl notwithstanding.