Murray needs to be more offensive-minded

Martin Rogers

Andy Murray has the snarl and the attitude and the chest-thumping persona that makes him equal parts tennis player and on-court warrior.

The world No. 2 has elevated to the upper echelon of the men's game as much by his mental approach as by his skills, throwing down the gauntlet to the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal over the past two years and becoming firmly established as the best current player never to have won a Grand Slam.

Defense is what Murray does best, with his retrieving ability from the back of the court second to none. He also returns serve exceptionally and puts more balls in play than anyone else on tour.

But while Murray's fighting spirit and consistency have served him well to this point, if he is to land his first Slam at the U.S. Open, then a more offensive-minded tactical game plan is necessary.

The screams and fist-pumps and punches of his racket-strings all portray an aggressive-mindset that means he is constantly pumped up. Yet that transfers into a dogged and stubborn style, a refusal to yield and be broken down, instead of a willingness to blast his opponent off court.

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Murray kicks off his U.S. Open run on Tuesday night.

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

For the most part, it works. But there is a growing suggestion that Federer is working out a way to combat it, just as Andy Roddick did in the semifinals of Wimbledon.

And Murray is well aware that there is more work to be done.

"I play to my strengths and I think I do a pretty good job of working things out on court and adapting," Murray said. "Having said that I am still improving and still learning and there are clearly things I can get better at.

"Perhaps changing the tempo of matches is a part of that, sometimes I might do a better job of stepping up the pace."

Murray has a career record of 6-3 against Federer but lost to the Swiss world No. 1 in Cincinnati recently and appeared to be mired in over-defensiveness. He had a similar problem 12 months ago when, struggling with nerves in his first Slam final, he lost to Federer in three sets in New York.

Murray has plenty to worry about before he would have to meet Federer again though, with the pair in opposite sides of the draw.

The 22-year-old's growing status is reflected in his positioning at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the headline attraction in Tuesday's night session, further confirmation he is a genuine worldwide star who has added great interest to the Federer-Nadal rivalry.

He kicks off his campaign against Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, a talented youngster of similar age and natural ability to Murray but without his mental fortitude.

"There are no easy games to start off with," Murray said. "At any Grand Slam you know you will have to bring your top game and this is no different. There is a special atmosphere about this Grand Slam and this stadium and I am up for the challenge."

Murray has a great record on tour and is as consistent as Federer in regular events. But this is the one he wants. Wimbledon is special for him as a Brit of course, but the U.S. Open surface suits his game better and offers the best chance of success.

"I play in an era with Roger and Rafa who are two of the best of all time," Murray said. "It is special to have got between them in the rankings and be No. 2 but I want more.

"It is a great challenge to be playing in this era and I love playing these guys. I want to win some Slams and be the best I can be."

Tuesday night could signal the start of a big journey for Murray – especially if he has his mind right and a flexible approach stashed in his racket case.