The great Czech Ivan Lendl used to suffer the same fate in Grand Slam finals as his now very successful ex student And Murray once did. It was called 'not living up to potential' or in another tennis terminology both of these players were in fact 'playing to not lose'.
In 1981 however Lendl lost in 5 sets to the second most successful French Open Champion of all time, Swede Bjorn Borg. To push Borg to five on clay was possibly one of the all time great feats of that era as the Swede's game was almost impossible to match on clay.
The fifth set score of that particular match was 6-1 to Borg, almost an anti climax from the first four sets so what happened in the decider ? Probably the same thing that happened to Lendl in his next four Grand Slam finals and possibly the same as what happened to Murray in his first four Grand Slam finals.
'Playing to not lose' is nothing new in any age bracket in tennis, the under 8's and 10's do it every match as do the under 12's. Once players start to develop shots that are physically harder then they will naturally begin to play bigger, to hit harder, to go for more winners, to try to win a match. The 14's age bracket is where you will start to see some more winners hit and some more risks taken and once you get to the 16's, well these kids can belt the ball like young men.
The problem is then obvious, young men start to retrieve like young men and their running capacity strengthens along with their physical capabilities so hitting winners against good retrievers is hard work. So what then happens ? Well that's when young men turn themselves into players like David Ferrer who are aware of their own ability or perhaps more to the point their inability to dictate a tennis match. So what do they do ? They become fitness experts.
Now in the past I have had a shot at Australia's very own fitness expert Roger Rasheed as I do not believe he is helping his player Grigor Dimitrov to win tennis matches. I believe he has got his player fit, that's about it.
I still believe Dimitrov needs a tactical coach to take his game to another level and perhaps if he should look at his own game he could almost take a leaf out of Ferrer's book. Could Dimitrov forget the flash perhaps and play a little more conservative like Ferrer does and simply wear his opponents out ? Why not ? Ferrer does and he is how many years older ??
So to my point and as always I do usually have one but many dislike it, such is life. Did Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray lose their first 5 and 4 Grand Slam finals respectively by simply playing to not lose as David Ferrer does in every match he plays? I like Ferrer but he has nothing to bother any of the top players with on a regular basis, he simply gets the ball in play, doesn't miss much and does his best to outlast his opponents. Anyone will tell you that style is simply not good enough to win regularly against the top ten yet it will earn you a tidy living all the same.
Ferrer has made one Grand Slam final but received a comprehensive belting from Nadal in the French Open final of 2013, 3, 2 and 3. When they played the very next year in the quarters Nadal won by a score of 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1. What does that score tell you ? Simple, the A plan ran out of fuel, plan B was not an option, there was no plan B. You simply cannot beat the top players with a game that has no arsenal because eventually the ammo will run out and the big guns will blow the pop gun away.
So back to Lendl and Murray, what did these guys do to win a Slam which Ferrer unfortunately will never do ? They learned to stop relying on their opponents to lose and found a way to win. So what way was it ? I personally believe that it was not only a change in thinking but it was a desire to take on the game, to dictate, to stop being pushed around by the class bully, to assert some authority, to take some risks, to not die wondering.
I believe that all of the above is why Federer is still winning, it's because he is seeing balls that a baseliner isn't, a ball to dictate play on, a ball to assert some authority on and a ball to ask the question of his opponent on.
Lendl and Murray were tired of being bullied so they reversed the roles that saw them both pushed around in the big matches. Lendl was the obvious choice for Murray as far as a coach was concerned, he taught him how to dictate and how to pick the balls to ask the question of the opponent.
My belief is that tennis is a sport that you need to decide who you are, the hunter or the hunted. Find some big guns or find a way to deflect the heavy artillery.
A thinking man's sport is tennis, keep doing the sums, it will all add up eventually........