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ATP Tennis 360


August 27, 2009 12:48 PM

The triumph of patchwork tennis

With a creative fusion of different styles Andy Murray has interrupted the duopoly Federer-Nadal becoming the first player different from them, when both present, to occupy one of the first two spots in a Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon 2005.


Multiplicity in unity. Andy Murray is the paradigm of a new tennistic poliphony, of a gestaltic synthesis of different influences and characters, styles and spurs generating an ensemble divergent and probably better in quality and quantity from the mechanical sum of the parts. He's a natural born showman, he speaks to his public with grimaces and snarls, with sulks and outbursts. He's genuine and spontaneous, on- and out-courts, and as a youngsters faced the inconveniences of journalistic misunderstandings.

In 2006, after a match during the Auckland tournament, he said that with seven breaks out of 12 games in the first set he and his opponent were serving like women. He said that jokingly, but many British tabloids' back pages wrote he was sexist.

He's a showman converted to the idea that theatres, and not the prosaic tennis courts are the ideal place to host a show. Andy has developed and brought on the threshold of perfection an hybrid style sacrificing talent for success, sacrifing a bit of beauty in the name of profit without erasing aesthetics from the horizon of his game. He's the most precise symbol of what we could define "patchwork tennis".

His rounded strokes have a Spanish perfume (probable inheritance of his Barcelonian period of practice) even if they are as far from the pronounced lob of the first generation of Spanish players as from the heavy 5,000 rpm rotations by Rafa Nadal. Murray's tennis is varied but sure, he paints a seducing and confusing spiderweb forcing even the most navigated to lost themselves in it. Among half-volley passing-shots and his trademark dropshot, Murray entangles for his displayed capability to mould his temper to better pursue his destiny, his cause, his goal.

In the perennial fight between es and ego, between a stubborn and rebellion-prone nature on one side and and the desire-need to be a good boy, at least on court, to live up with the expectations of an entire nation who wants him to be the new Fred Perry (or at least the last, in order of time, of the new Fred Perrys), responsibility won. Murray is an anti-hero, like the Swede, protagonist of "American Pastoral" by Philip Roth; like him he transformed into a professional success a two-faced personality, sharpened during the years.

He feels tennis, more than simply play it, preserving from his youth a sharp tactical and strategical instinct. At 11 years old he and his twin Jamie went to the European Badminton championships at Kelvin Hall. He seemed not to pay attention to a match involving the then n.1 in Europe, and suddenly asked his mother if they could go away, with a set remaining. He had already realized how to beat the n.1: play high on his backhand corner, and close the point with a drop shot. A scheme that gave him many satisfactions in his career as a pro.

A career inspired and governed by the omnipresent mother Judy, who didn't begrudge harsh critics about his son's game but strictly direct a Barnum of coaches, trainers and psychologists hired to channel Murray's instinct and talent. And whereas Brad Gilbert, the most expensive coach in the world at £750,000 a year, failed, Miles MacLagan, an ex journeyman professionist and anonymous tennis players (his best ranking was n.172), triumphed. This Zambian-born Scottish man, known because he guided Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyett to become the couple n.4 in the doubles ranking, is "the quiet man" who discovered the secret of success.

Sponsored by (what else?) Judy Murray, Miles Maclagan initially seemed destined to a relationvery similar to the Mats Wilander-Marat Safin connection. Instead, although the premises were the same (mercurial player and calm coach), the result is very different from the few-months long Russian-Sweden experience.

Since 2007, MacLagan shaped a true champion, meant to answer to the yet unsolved existential questions accomunating every tennis fan throughout the Uk: How long can a nation fail in his dreams for? How long can a nation bet on the wrong horse (see Tim Henman) being constantly disappointed because of lack of timing (i.e. start of Federer-era) or "performance anxiety" (i.e. 2003 Wimbledon quarterfinal lost to Sebastien Grosjean)?

Hoping to see Andy Murray lifting up the trophy in front of the Royal Box British fans forgive him even his anti-English speaking before the 2006 World Cup in Germany ("I could support everyone but England"). So the revelation of his Metternichian belief that Great Britain is no more than a geographical entity passed away without touching or mark his deep link with the community of fans; the same who never forgived Rusedski, who won less than Murray, his Canadian origins.

Last year comeback against Richard "Lionheart" Gasquet and this year sweated and unusually nocturnal exploit against Wawrinka made him surrounded by an epic light, also if last year he surrendered lifting the proverbial white flag against Nadal and some months ago he was defeated by an inswinging performance anxiety more than an extraordinary Andy Roddick who went a backhand volley-far from winning the Championships.

His consistent results on every surface, the recent triumph in Montreal has confirmed that the Scotster is on the right way, and indicates that numbers and hutilitarism have their own reasons that aesthetics doesn't know; and the first subdued the last. Because no-one take to the field to play violino.

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