French Open Semi Final: Preview & Prediction – Andy Murray vs Stanislas Wawrinka
In this semi-final show-down at Roland Garros, Andy Murray of Great Britain and Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland are set to square off, in what many expect to be a pulsating encounter between two of the game’s highest calibre players.
The Clay Court style/game:
Unlike so much on hard-court, aggressive shots slow-up when making contact on the clay and as byproduct hitting winners earlier in the rally is difficult. The surface lends itself to guys fond of building/constructing points. Capturing angles is paramount, whilst power is still crucial, it is saved mostly for finishing off points when up near (Or inside) the forecourt.
A smart clay-courter will aim to move their opponent around by dragging them wide and/or pressing them deep, this in effort to eventually give themselves the opportunity to put them in trouble on the next shot from a set of options. (Laying drop-shots, rushing in for a volley, flattening out the ball etc) They’re basically wrestling for court-position control and then owning the court & kicking their opponent out of court.
Wawrinka & how well his game meets on clay:
Wawrinka is dangerous on all surfaces, but the one where his game reaches its absolute highest ceiling is the clay. When he has time on the ball, he has the crazy racquet head acceleration along with sheer brute strength, to allow for the unique skill of manufacturing acute angles whilst still remaining hugely powerful on his shots. Wherever he is positioned, whether it’s feet behind the baseline or feet out-wide of the trams, he is able to produce a combination of devastating power + angled accuracy. All done using heavy amounts of topspin, timing & brute strength.
Murray & why he has struggled historically with the clay: (And still does)
1) The lack of an efficient topspin forehand or ability to generate own pace
With the importance of point construction on clay, topspin arguably is the most crucial component. Using it helps the player develop a reliable, consistent & familiar formula for winning points. Unless guys have massive weapons with big take-backs that they load-up on (Del Potro, Soderling, Berdych, Chardy) they have to be able to manipulate the ball around. Though even the guys with big load-ups have to use a certain amount of spin for control. A forehand topspin is typically the groundstroke players use to create the spin and the bounce they need. Whilst Murray’s forehand topspin is reasonable, it’s not great, it’s not efficient and it’s not the shot he is comfortable using in an offensive sense.
For me it is ‘part’ of the reason he struggles against lower ranked guys (Ala Bourgue, Stepanek etc) on clay. A lack of an efficient topspin forehand. A lack of a forehand he is able generate his ‘own’ pace on. One which he can rely heavily on as a shot that wrestles him control of rallies through opening up angles and space. To me there was no surprise to see him choosing an investment tactic of constantly drop-shotting Gasquet, in order to eventually take his legs away, which he eventually managed. On a faster court, Murray can use the pace a little more that’s coming from the opponent, but on clay with how slow the ball comes at you and how high it can bounce from opponent’s topspin shots, it’s simply not possible.
2) A much better mover on hardcourt:
Murray and Djokovic’s games centre around movement and both move incredibly on hard-court. They’re able to defend and counter/react against what their opponent’s fire at them, but since clay is slippery it’s much harder to grip to the surface and suddenly change direction if your momentum is taking you the other way. Players have to commit a little more to where they believe their opponent is going with the shot or they can become quite easily wrong-footed. This was the major reason Djokovic found it so difficult against Wawrinka in the final last year and ultimately why he lost. He was struggling to wrestle himself into neutral positions in the rally once Wawrinka got on-top in them, the way he normally would be able to against him on a hard-court. If he waited, Stan would wrong-foot him and if he guessed, he would need to guess right.
3) Murray’s offence on clay
Murray’s offence on hard-court, indoor and grass tends to be to take the ball early with his backhand and flatten it out. Of course on clay taking the ball early in attempt to rush your opponent in preparation for their next shot isn’t quite as easy, since the surface slows the shot down, especially if flat. Wawrinka stands a few feet behind the baseline, taking cuts, so I don’t see him being rushed for any time.
4) Murray’s second serve
The widely spoken about Murray second serve. The slower the surface gets the more significant a weakness this quite obviously becomes and is why he serves so well on the grass, as the surface conceals it’s lack of MPH and reacts favourably to the slice that he puts on the ball with it. The lack of MPH or kick to compensate is very unforgiving on dirt. (I know it’s improved, but it still stands out)
Strength on clay:
The one area of Murray’s game which does lend itself to the clay, is his variety. The ball can die on this surface as we all know and he is the master of cat and annoying mouse, changes of pace, drop-shots etc etc.
Players’ strengths and weaknesses:
Murray’s strengths: Return of serve, backhand, movement, touch/feel/variety.
Murray’s weaknesses: Second serve, inability to generate pace on forehand.
Wawrinka’s strengths: Serve, kicker serve, ability to generate pace on forehand & backhand with angle.
Wawrinka’s weaknesses: Return-of-serve (Just chips it back when players’ bang down a first to his single handed backhand, but it is clay, so….)
The Match-up and Summary:
To really have success on the clay having an efficient topspin shot mixed in with an ability to construct smart points is of fundamental importance, without this you only survive through possessing immense power which can cut through the mud. Wawrinka just so fortunately happens to have both (Spin & Immense Power) and that sets a frightening prospect for Murray, especially with the less stable footing/balance on clay he naturally has compared to when playing on hard. He’ll have to guess where Wawrinka is going.
Murray can afford to take educated guesses against lesser opponents when on the backfoot on clay, but Wawrinka’s span of ball-striking options means those guesses will now turn uneducated. Forehand to forehand cross-court duels will always go the way of Wawrinka.
Backhand to backhand cross-court duels, with the better angles Stan can capture, he edges those too. Both players have the option of taking their backhands-up-the-line and Wawrinka has much better control on his forehand, allowing him more open mindedness on that side.
Murray can move well on a slippery slidey clay court much better now a days, but if you like to construct your points as Wawrinka does, it’s easier for him to be facing Murray on a surface where he can keep him off balance and out-of-comfort in defence. There are easier opportunities to wrong-foot Murray for Wawrinka on the red-stuff.
Objectively speaking unless Stan has one of his ‘missing-in-action’ days, I really don’t see any way for how Murray can stop him. He’s swiss and Switzerland is a French speaking nation, he’s the closest thing the French know to Roger Federer and he plays flashy ‘oh la la’ tennis. The crowd will be behind him. He comes into the match on the back of a tournament win in Geneva & five wins here, so he has had plenty of time to find his rhythm he found here last season, as well as the season before last on the clay in Monte Carlo, where he dismantled Federer.
I hate to ever use the term ‘it’s on his racquet’ as especially on slow surfaces, tactics add many variables, but it really is on the defending champions’ racquet and we should be looking at the next episode in the trilogy of Novak vs Stan on Sunday.
Stanislas Wawrinka in 4 sets
(Betting perspective Wawrinka pays at around 2.17 with most bookmakers & bet trading exchanges – A great match to trade on IMO if that’s your thing)