London 2012 Olympics: Andy Murray gives his supporters the jitters before coming from behind to beat Marcos Baghdatis
IN TENNIS, all points are equal but some points are more equal than others. Just ask Andy Murray. From watching his Olympic dream falling apart against Marcos Baghdatis, suddenly – and in no more than the pace of one horrendous miss by the Cypriot – the match was turned on its head, Murray took control and saved the day.
Now it is the Scot who is safely settled into the Olympic quarter-finals and sharpening his focus on the medal positions. Baghdatis, meanwhile, left the court in tears wondering how he could have let his lead slip away to a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 defeat.
That miss, on break point at the start of the second set, destroyed him: he had the whole court to play with, he was standing at the net with the ball sitting up nicely in his strike zone – all he had to do was tap it into the acres of empty space in front of him. Instead, Baghdatis welted it into the net, Murray had a 3-1 lead in the second set and Scotland’s finest was on his way to victory.
Until that point, everyone on Centre Court – bar Baghdatis – had the jitters. The gusting, swirling wind was whipping up the dust on the worn baseline, the crumbling court was throwing up weird bounces and Murray could not find a way to apply any pressure on Baghdatis’s defences. His first two rounds had been played under the roof but now, exposed to the elements, the conditions caught him unawares.
Dropping his serve in the opening game did little to settle the crowd’s nerves and even when he broke back, the respite did not last for long. The world No 4 was broken again a couple of games later and the opening set had gone.
The longer Murray’s misery went on, the more nervous the crowd became. The Olympic mob are a more vocal crowd than the normal, tight-lipped Wimbledon audience and every missed first serve, every fluffed forehand was met with groans. They were totally committed to the Murray cause but they just could not hide their nerves and frustrations. Inside, Murray, too, was tied up in knots.
“I was pretty unsure of myself at the beginning of the match, didn’t feel comfortable on the court,” he said later. “I was struggling in the first set. Then I managed to settle myself down and move my feet better to get in better position in the second set. Played some good tennis after that.”
Murray dropped a set to Baghdatis at Wimbledon just five weeks ago but then he was playing a best-of-five set match and he had time to recover. Yesterday, any mishap in the second set would have spelled the end for the Scot – and that thought merely stretched his nerves a little tighter.
“The big difference between three and five set matches is that you can be out of the tournament quickly,” he said. “Guys like Marcos, he’s ranked 40 or 50 in the world. When he plays his best tennis, he’s so, so tough to beat. It’s obviously easier to keep it up for two sets than it is for three. That’s why you can’t really afford slow starts. I was lucky to get away with it today.”
The Baghdatis miss sparked Murray’s revival. He ran away with seven consecutive games and by the time the likeable Cypriot had managed to get back into the match, it was too late: Murray was playing well, he was playing with confidence and he was not going to be beaten. When he won the final point, he let out a roar of delight and punched the air again and again. He had escaped by the skin of his teeth and he knew it.
“Today, yeah, there was a fair amount of tension on the court,” he admitted. “That’s probably why my celebration was what it was. It was a release of that tension. Hopefully I will play better tomorrow.”
Today’s test comes in the shape of Nicolas Almagro, the world No 12, from Spain and every day from now on will be busy. His opening mixed doubles match was cancelled last night so the Scot must now play two matches a day, every day, if he is to fulfil his dream of a medal. “Almagro’s a tough player,” Murray said. “He takes a lot of risk on the court. He goes for his shots, doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t have loads of variation, but he can overpower you. He has a big serve as well. But if I serve like I did the last couple sets, that will help me out a lot.”
And a win against Almagro would put Murray just one win away from an Olympic medal.
Elsewhere yesterday, world No 1 Roger Federer reached the quarter-finals after seeing off Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. It was a tougher than expected match for the Wimbledon champion, who made the perfect start with a break of serve in his opponent’s first game but allowed Istomin to level. The Uzbek then had three break points at 5-5 but could not take them and he paid the price, with Federer wrapping up a 7-5, 6-3 victory on Court One.
Eighth seed Juan Martin Del Potro also reached the last eight despite dropping a set to 12th seed Gilles Simon, the Argentine prevailing 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, while 11th seed Almagro from Spain beat Steve Darcis 7-5, 6-3.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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