Murray defends controversial serve despite boos at Indian Wells as Kyrgios backs him
Andy Murray pulled off what is deemed by some a controversial tennis trick on Sunday night, but Nick Kyrgios was certainly a fan.
The Briton was aiming to reach the third round at Indian Wells, and was taking on 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in California.
Alcaraz had just taken a tight first set 7-5 after 66 gruelling minutes, and early in the second set the Spaniard was aiming to go a break up.
Murray saved two break points to take it to deuce, and on his advantage the former world No 1 opted for an underarm serve, which proved to be an ace with Alcaraz standing so far back.
The serve helped Murray go 2-1 up in the second set, and as he nonchalantly made his way back to his chair, the controversial move was met with a mixture of cheers and jeers.
Kyrgios, the world No 97, is arguably the most well-known player to regularly deploy the underarm serve, which can often lead to questions around sportsmanship, respect, and whether it is a cheap way to win a point.
However, while Kyrgios posted on his Instagram story “no way Andy Murray,” Murray himself defended the move – which is not against the rules – after battling back to beat Alcaraz in three sets.
Per the ATP’s official rulebook, there is nothing to suggest the underarm serve is not allowed: Immediately before starting the service motion, the server shall stand at rest with both feet behind (i.e. further from the net than) the baseline and within the imaginary extensions of the centre mark and the sideline. The server shall then release the ball by hand in any direction and hit the ball with the racket before the ball hits the ground. The service motion is completed at the moment that the player’s racket hits or misses the ball. A player who is able to use only one arm may use the racket for the release of the ball.
“If you look where he was standing at the beginning of the match to return the first serve in comparison, he changed that at the end of the first set. He started returning from further back, so it was even harder to get free points on the serve,” Murray said.
“I thought if he’s going to stand that far back and I’m getting no love from the court and the conditions, why not try it and see if I can bring him forward a little bit again?
“I wasn’t expecting obviously to get an ace out of it. He was so far back, he didn’t obviously react. Wasn’t expecting it. I was thinking about using it at times in the third set, but obviously up in the score, was doing a little bit better, didn’t feel like I needed to.
“Certainly when guys are standing there to return serve now, it’s a smart play.”
Murray’s mother, Judy, has also defended the underarm serve in the past, praising Kyrgios for his “genius” when using the move back in 2019.
Judy Murray said on Twitter: “The whole point of tennis competition is to disrupt your opponents’ game by applying pressure through changing the speed, spin, direction, depth or height of the ball. And that includes the serve. Kyrgios is a genius. I’m surprised more players don’t do it.”
Kyrgios was accused of lacking respect by Rafael Nadal, who said “he lacks respect for the public, the rival and towards himself” when using the trick against the Spaniard – but the Australian believes it is a viable tactic.
“That’s the only reason for doing it,” Kyrgios said. “I mean isn’t the idea to serve where the person can’t get the ball? Try to get an ace?”
Roger Federer also backed Kyrgios two years ago, saying players should not feel “ashamed” to try it.
“Underarm is definitely a tactic, I believe,” said Federer. “Especially when guys are hugging the fence in the back. From that standpoint, [you] shouldn’t be ashamed if you try it out.
“[You] just look silly if you miss it sometimes. Why not try it? The problem is in practice, you never really try it. When you come out in the big stage in front of a full crowd, [it is] tricky to pull off.”
Nadal elaborated on his opinion of the underarm serve at last year’s French Open, where he was critical of Mackenzie McDonald when the trick did not come off.
“If he’s winning, it is a good tactic,” said Nadal. “If he’s losing, it is a bad tactic. That’s all. For example today for Mackenzie it was not a good tactic.”
“If you do it with the goal to improve your game, or like a tactical thing, I support it 100 per cent. If you do for the disrespect of the opponent, is not a good thing.
“Everybody knows internally if you are doing it in a good way or in a bad way. For me there is no discussion about that. It is part of the rules, you can do it 100 per cent. It is about yourself, if you feel good doing or not. Depends.”