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Wimbledon 2022 – ‘A very millennial shot’

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LONDON — It was late Monday night on Center Court when Andy Murray tried something for the second time in his professional career.

The first round match was set for a single set – he was serving after breaking James Duckworth in the third and leading 2-1. Murray, already 0-15 for good, looked up to see Duckworth standing a little further back than usual. Then, with a look and a bounce, he hit an underarm serve and finally won the point. The execution was a little off the mark, a little deeper effort than he would have ideally wanted, but it was greeted with the usual ‘oooh’ from the crowd whenever something is out of the norm here at Wimbledon.

The underarm serve is a divisive tactic in tennis, but when executed it can be unnerving. Murray was asked after the match if it was a controversial act. “I don’t know why people have ever found it potentially disrespectful,” he said, as he previously used it against Carlos Alcaraz in Indian Wells in 2021. “I’ve never understood it. It is a legitimate way to serve.”

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And Murray is far from alone in trying this tactic. One of the most famous displays of this was Michael Chang in the fifth set of his 1989 French Open match against Ivan Lendl. Chang had cramps and used it as a means to get over it. “It never crossed my mind that there was something wrong with that,” Lendl said later. “Because there wasn’t.”

On the women’s side, Martina Hingis wore it against Steffi Graf in the 1999 French Open final and was booed by the Paris crowd. Sara Errani also used it at Roland Garros against Kiki Bertens in 2020: Errani ended up committing two fouls twice with the approach.

Murray explained why he used this tactic at the time: “Well, he changed his return position. That’s why I did it,” Murray said. “He was standing very close to returning. He was struggling a little bit with the return of the first serve, so he probably went back 2 meters more. As soon as I saw him go back, I threw the serve under the arm. The part under the arm serve It’s a way of saying, if you’re going to take a step back, then I’m probably going to throw that away.”

Those who know Murray well, like his former coach Brad Gilbert, were surprised to see him try. “In general, I’m not a fan of it,” Gilbert, who coached Murray from 2006 to 2007, told ESPN. with monster serves they want to do it. If you miss, then these guys show up and save it.” Murray’s was lousy as he didn’t hit a good one, but I was surprised to see him try. I don’t think ‘wow, that’s effective’ or a ‘great play’. It’s more of a surprise play and, in most cases, a great position for the one he comes back for.”

The mischievous Nick Kyrgios is a big fan of that sleight of hand, as is Alexander Bublik. Bublik said in 2021 that he used such a service to “entertain himself.” While this was only the second serve under Murray’s arm in a professional game, Kyrgios introduced it as one of his tactics to launch an opponent and win the point.

When Rafael Nadal faced him in 2020, he was asked about Kyrgios’ use of the underarm serve. Nadal replied: “He lacks respect for the public, for his opponent and for himself.” Nadal also faced this tactic against American Mackenzie McDonald in 2020. “If you do it to disrespect the opponent, it’s not a good thing,” he said. And he added: “For Mackenzie today, it was not a good tactic.”

But often, Kyrgios has been on the wrong side of criticism when it comes to using the serve under his arm. Gilbert is puzzled as to why Kyrgios continually uses it. “I don’t get it, since he can hit a serve 130-135,” Gilbert said. “Maybe he’s doing it to turn things around, or to get the crowd going. But if I can serve the way he does, then I’ll be blowing him away.”

World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev has used it too, including last year at Roland Garros against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas was asked about it and dismissively called it “a very millennial shot.”

There is a school of thought, as Murray said, that players use it more to combat opponents further back from the baseline. The odd underarm serve keeps them on their toes and prevents them from always having the luxury of an extra split second to read a serve.

Cliff Drysdale, a 1965 US Open finalist and two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist, has no problem and predicts we’ll see more of this tactic in upcoming matches and tournaments.

“I think it’s fun, I don’t have a problem, if you can have somebody on defense wondering when one is coming. I don’t have a problem with that from a sporting standpoint,” Drysdale said. ESPN. “Everyone needs to get over it, they’ll see it in a few more players, it’s not disrespectful, it’s part of tennis. It’s not a threat to the sport, it’s just a few players that change things. I think we’ll see a little more , but not a complete change.

But when it comes to the question of disrespect, Gilbert, while not a fan of the service as he doesn’t really see the risk-reward justification for it, says there are other much more offensive acts in the game. “It’s your choice, it’s not like a quick serve, or something involuntary like grunting after you’ve hit the ball, it’s still your choice. But if you can serve massively, why do it?”

For Murray, while the execution was a little off the mark, it was as much about telling the opponent that he had his card marked as it was about finding a sneaky way to win a point. “I didn’t use it to disrespect him, but to say, ‘If you’re going to take a step back to return serve and give yourself more time, then I’m going to take advantage of that.'”

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