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Andy Murray: What Has Gone Wrong in 2014?

Before his back surgery after the US Open last year, Andy Murray had become an undisputed member of the ‘Big 4’ in men’s tennis. Long grouped with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray had finally started to justify his inclusion in that group. When he lifted the Wimbledon trophy and realised a lifelong ambition, it seemed to mark the start of a rise to potential superstardom.

He had reached at least the semi-final of nine of the preceding ten Grand Slams, had appeared in five finals and had won two Grand Slam titles. He had won the Olympic gold medal at Wimbledon the previous summer. At that moment, the idea that it would be 14 long months until Andy Murray would reach his next final at any level would have been laughable.

Can Andy Murray rediscover the form that saw him win Wimbledon last year?

His comeback has been slow – much slower than he might have hoped. His relationship with Ivan Lendl came to an end, with the Czech potentially anticipating that the path back to the top would be long and, potentially even, impossible. However, looking at his statistics, it is difficult to pinpoint what is different about Andy Murray since his comeback.

As a starting point, let us look at Andy Murray on hard courts – a surface that he has thrived on in the past. The table below shows various statistics comparing his performance in 2013, where he won a Masters series title in Miami, reached the final of the Australian Open and won the title in Brisbane, with his performance in 2014, where he has won just the one title in Shenzhen last week and failed to pass the quarter-finals in any Grand Slam or Masters event.

1st Serve %
% Points Won on 1st Serve
% Non-Ace Points Won on 1st Serve
% Points Won on 2nd Serve
% Points Won on Return
Break Points Created/Game
Break Point Conversion Rate
Double Faults/Game
Break Points Faced/Game
Break Point Save Rate

So, what can we see from these figures? His first serve percentage is slightly down this year, although he would appear not to have lost any speed on his serve – the average serve of his first and second serves this year are virtually identical to both 2012 and 2013. When he gets the first serve into play, he is winning slightly less, but it is only down by 0.6% - not a huge amount. His percentage of non-ace points won on first serve, which acts as a proxy of the quality of his ground game is down very slightly, but again not by a huge amount. In terms of the rest of the ATP, his 74.1% in 2013 put him at 28th, while he has dropped just two places in 2014 to 30th.

His second serve has always been an issue, but he is actually winning a greater percentage of points behind his second serve this year than he did last year. It is still slightly down from the 53.5% that he won in 2012, but this improvement is encouraging. His 52.8% puts him at number 18 in the ATP this year, up eight places from last year.

His return game is slightly more concerning, but also slightly puzzling. He is winning a huge 4% fewer points on return this year compared to last year, but interestingly, he is still creating the same number of break points per game. This is intriguing and something that we shall come back to later.

Both his break point conversion rate and break point save rates are very fractionally down, but not by any significant margin, suggesting that we cannot necessarily point to his performance on the important points as the difference. He is serving 0.05 fewer aces per game this year, but this is again pretty negligible, while his double faults per game is identical to 2013. He is facing slightly more break points per game, but again a small change.

So, how do these very small changes affect his performance when we scale them up to game level, rather than point level?

In 2013, Andy Murray held serve in 83.6% of his service games on hard courts and was able to break his opponent in 34.4% of return games. In comparison, this year, he has held serve in 82.2% of service games and has broken in 33.3% of return games.

Again, these appear to be very minimal changes. He holds serve in 1.4% fewer service games and breaks serve in 1.1% fewer return games. Can these seemingly small changes really cause such a big difference in his results?

Thanks to Dan Weston (@tennisratings), we can look in more detail at his performance during individual sets. The starred statistics are for all surfaces, rather than just hard court, but the overall trends should be similar. The table below shows some interesting statistics:

*Early Games Hold %
*Late Games Hold %
*Early Games Break %
*Late Games Break %
*Lost Lead when Break Ahead
*Recovered Break Deficit
Set 1 Win %
Set 2 Win %
Set 3 Win %

There are a couple of things that immediately jump out from this table. The first and most obvious is the drop in recovered break deficit. This represents the percentage of times that a player breaks back and gets back on serve when down a break in a set. This is the first time that we have seen a huge change in a statistic – down 19.2%.

Despite the impression that Murray has thrown away matches from winning positions on far too many occasions in 2014, the percentage of times that he has been broken back when leading by a break is only fractionally higher than it was last year.

Another area that is interesting is how Murray’s game changes over the course of a set. The early games statistics refer to the opening two service games of the set for each player and we can see that while Murray’s serve has changed little here, he is actually breaking 6.6% more often at this early stage in sets.

Conversely, he appears to struggle slightly more at later moments in sets. He holds serve 3.3% less often this year compared with last year, but the big drop is in the number of games where he breaks late in sets, which is down by 6.5%.

How can we relate these statistics to what we might expect to see from Andy Murray? Well, it would seem to suggest that he actually comes out of the blocks more quickly in sets this year, but late in the sets, he is struggling to break serve. When we combine this with the fall in recovered break deficit, we can see that the big difference is that, where last year he would often either break to take the set or to get himself back into a set, this is not happening this year and players are serving out sets against him. Where he was able to battle to get back into sets last year and win tight sets, he is unable to do it this year.

We can also see that, despite starting well in sets, he is starting very slowly in matches as a whole. Where in 2013, he won 77.4% of opening sets, this has dropped to just 52.8% in 2014. Constantly, he is forcing himself to come back from losing the opening set and giving himself no room for error. His second set win percentage is slightly up, as we might expect given that he is dropping opening sets against weaker players and forcing himself to up his game, but his third set win percentage is down from 76.5% to 63.6% this year.

While the sample is relatively small, could we speculate that it is taking Murray time to get his back moving and, as a result, is struggling to get going in opening sets? Could we suggest that his fitness is not quite at the level that it was before, hence he is winning fewer matches in deciding sets?

We can combine some of these new statistics with what we found in some of the more basic ones. We noticed that, despite his points won on return being down, he is creating the same number of break points. However, these break points are not being created when he most needs them – when he is behind in a set.

To conclude, the major changes that we can find in Andy Murray’s statistics this year are his performance when he is behind in sets. He is serving just as well as last year, his return is very slightly down, but he is still creating break point opportunities and he is playing just as well on the break points. However, the big problem is that he is struggling to create and take these opportunities when he is behind in sets. He is creating and taking break point chances when the match is level and when he is ahead. However, if his opponent draws first blood, the ability to fight back into the set is not there this year.

This appears to be particularly problematic in the opening set. He is often coming out of the blocks relatively slowly in opening sets, going behind and then finds himself unable to get back into the set. It means that he is constantly having to go three sets to get back into matches, which against top 20 players is tough. Only once in his last nine matches against top 20 players has he dropped the opening set and come back to win. Fighting back from a set deficit against top players is incredibly difficult, so he simply cannot afford to keep starting so slowly.

Why he is finding it far tougher to come back from behind, we cannot tell from the statistics. Maybe it is mental – could it be that having achieved his dream of winning Wimbledon, the desire to fight for every point in every match has dwindled somewhat? Could it be that confidence is low after the injury layoff and his lack of titles and finals since his comeback? Could it simply be bad luck – when he has the opportunities to break back, his opponents are coming up with aces or huge winners which hit the line this year, whereas they might have just missed the line in the past?

Without having watched all of his matches this year, it is impossible to tell. There is almost certainly not one single reason. However, the encouraging news for Murray fans is that his game is not far off being back to where it was last year. He is still slightly off, but given a full and injury-free pre-season, it would be no surprise to see him back challenging again in Melbourne next January.

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