Sometimes being unpredictable is just bad strategy.
Done well it can throw your opponents off-balance, confusing them, clouding thinking, wasting time and tricking them into making a mistake.
But more often than not being unpredictable has a predictable outcome – which Alexander Bublik found to his cost as Andy Murray started his Wimbledon defence with a straightforward and straight sets 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Murray took down his first opponent at the All England Club with ruthless efficiency, showing little signs of the injury problems that have hit his preparation in recent weeks.
Kazakhstan’s Bublik likes to be a ‘leader not a follower’ – he’s even got a tattoo to prove it – and boasts that he never watches the top players as he finds them ‘boring’. If he has any ambition to crack the world’s top 100 and come close to fulfilling his undoubted potential, perhaps he should start, he might learn something.
Not overawed by his Centre Court surroundings, Bublik hit shots most wouldn’t attempt – and sometimes, though only sometimes, they came off.
Murray simply shrugged and smiled when beaten by a 134mph second serve, perhaps safe in the knowledge that every other time it would be attempted the ball would sail high, wide or crash against the net.
In the end Murray second serve stats were a predictable 74% and Bublik’s an unpredictable 29%.
Murray, the world number one, hit 29 winners and maintained his form either side of a rain break to win in one hour and 44 minutes, a quick-fire win that was just what the doctor – or physio – ordered.
He was clearly holding back, letting some points slide, with his statistics showing a distinctly pedestrian average service speed of 113mph. However, he won 29 from 37 points at the net to show his movement around the court wasn’t a problem.
It seems, the opposite of unpredictable isn’t predictable. The opposite of unpredictable is strategic and being strategic usually wins.
“It wasn’t the easiest match to play because of the way he plays,” admitted Murray. “There wasn’t loads of rhythm because he’s doing different stuff on each point.
“He served some huge, huge serves on his second serve, which you don’t really see much these days. He was just going for everything.
“I just had to keep my focus and not make unforced errors and I’ve got to be pretty pleased with that start, considering how I was feeling five, six days ago, it was really positive.”
Next up for Murray is the equally unpredictable dreadlock-wearing Dustin Brown tomorrow.
Two years ago he came through qualifying before knocking out Rafael Nadal in the second round, with a mix of shots that the Spaniard simply struggled to comprehend.
His name is almost universally pre-faced with flamboyant but Murray won their only previous encounter, seven years ago at the US Open.
“I’m going to try and take Andy out of his comfort zone,” said Brown, after beating Portuguese number one Joao Sousa in four sets.
“I want to play aggressive and go to the net. That has nothing to do with trying to be exciting or flashy or any of that, it’s just how I play.
“He’s the favourite. I can be pretty relaxed and try and play my game. If I lose in three sets no one is going to worry. I will just go out there and try my best.”
You don’t hear top players saying they won’t worry if they lose in three sets, which probably sums up the difference between being world number one and world number 97.
Brown might be managing expectations – a tactic with a similar success record to unpredictability – but Murray won’t be getting complacent.
“I know Dustin pretty well. We message each other from time to time and he’s a really, really nice guy,” he added.
“I expect him to be very aggressive and I think he’ll go for his shots. I think he’ll come forward a lot and you don’t know what he’ll do.
“You know he’s going to go for it and you know he hits a lot of dropshots. It’s not easy to play players like that.
“He’s obviously had a big win here in the past against Rafa. Whether he respects me or not, I’m going to go out on the court to play great tennis and I’ll need to be ready.”
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