IF THERE were an award for vacuous tweeting (or is that redundant?), Andy Murray would be a top contender. Granted, it's hard to convey depth in 140 characters or fewer, but here's a typical tweet from the 21-year-old Scotsman: Got the job done in the end. Tuf match, tricky conditions. [Juan] Monaco played gr8 first set. Miami heat game 2nite. Courtside tickets. Yes.
Fortunately Murray conveys a good deal more thought and nuance on the tennis court. With Roger Federer resembling the racket he cracked in a rare fit of pique last week—damaged and bent out of shape—Murray has established himself as the world's best player not named Rafael Nadal. Currently fourth in the ATP rankings, Murray has stormed to a 26--2 record in 2009. On Sunday he defeated Serbia's Novak Djokovic 6--2, 7--5 in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., to take his third title of '09. "I've had a really good run so far this year," Murray says. "You win one tournament, and it gives you confidence for the next one."
While Murray stands 6'3" and has vastly improved his strength and stamina over the last year, he relies more on brains than on brawn. His versatile game is predicated on exceptional anticipation and clever changes of pace and direction. In the course of a typical point he'll improve his court position with each stroke; once he's carved an opening, he'll finally do violence to the ball and thwack a winner. "There's not one way to play tennis," Murray says. "The majority of the players now play so well from the baseline from both sides that if you can use some slice and drop shots, some high balls and stuff, it just takes them out of their comfort zone."
Murray is particularly effective against Federer. He has won six of their eight matches, including the last four. Murray's patient, unpredictable style clearly confounds Federer, and since he wasn't around for most of Federer's reign, he lacks the awe that often paralyzed other players. Murray "knows he doesn't need to play close to the lines," observes Federer, who fell to Djokovic in the semis, "because he knows he can cover the court really well. I think that calms him down."
Already among the most popular athletes in the U.K., Murray may not have David Beckham's looks, but he's an everyday bloke whose sardonic, witty manner plays well in the Land of Cowell. Meanwhile, Murray recently signed with the Los Angeles--based Creative Artists Agency. He also bought a condo in Miami, where he stayed during the tournament. Murray denies seeking to expand his sphere of influence, but his profile will expand immeasurably if he can become the first Brit since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the Wimbledon men's crown. Given his success this year, the decline of Federer and the slower play of the grass at the All England Club, which complements Murray's understated style, you don't have to be an irrationally optimistic British fan to think he can do it.
Winning Wimbledon? As the player himself might put it: That wld b gr8.
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At the Australian Open, Victoria Azarenka (right) of Belarus won the first set against Serena Williams but then grew dizzy in the heat and retired. Williams went on to win the tournament. Instant karma: Last Saturday, Azarenka, 19, benefited from Williams's health problems—an injured thigh and ankle—to win the Sony Ericsson women's final.... Maria Sharapova hasn't played a singles match in 2009 as she recovers from a shoulder injury.... A Wimbledon wild card is in order for Taylor Dent, the last of the serve-and-volleyers, who's returned from a back injury and reached the fourth round in Key Biscayne.... Hype, anyone? Britain's Laura Robson, who lives a few blocks from the All England Club, is the world's top-ranked junior girl.
RON C. ANGLE
SMASH HITS While Federer (inset) abused his gear, Murray sliced through the men's draw.
RON C. ANGLE
[See caption above]
RHONA WISE/EPA (FEDERER)