Andy Murray has a tried and tested winning formula for success in major championships. All business, no distractions.
But the Olympics is not just another stop on the road or, even, another Slam. Carrying the flag, being stopped by team-mates for selfies, breakfasting with Justin Rose – this is as alien to Murray as dancing the waltz with Serena Williams at the Wimbledon ball.
He has looked almost worryingly relaxed in the last week, he’s been smiling too much and cracking too many jokes. Something had to give.
Murray came through his first two matches here against Viktor Troicki and Juan Monaco in impressive fashion, dropping just nine games.
Fabio Fognini, the world No 41, looked like he was being despatched in similar fashion.
He’s just nine days younger than Murray but is ranked 39 places below him, though their head-to-head statistics were level, the Italian winning the last Davis Cup singles match Murray lost.
So there wasn’t much concern as Murray raced to the opening set in just 30 minutes, dropping just one game in the process. Before they walked on court Rafael Nadal had bullied Gilles Simon out of the Games in straight sets, so Murray was surely going to join him in the last eight in double quick time too, especially as Fognini has a reputation for throwing in the towel a little too easily.
But the Italian had nothing to play for and played like it. Murray, in contrast, started to miss the most regulation shots and was repeatedly beaten by Fognini’s deft drop shots, a rather nasty taste of his own medicine. The windy conditions and difficult shadow on the court didn’t improve the spectacle either.
The Scot lost the second set 6-2 and then found himself three games down in the decider – a run of eight games without troubling the scorer.
And then, finally, came the Murray we know. He screamed at his coaches, raged against himself, stamped his foot, smashed his hand into his racket and swore a bit - and it worked with the final scoreline reading 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.
“I probably didn’t win a game there for 40 or so minutes and that doesn’t happen very often,” Murray said. “It was pretty ugly to watch but it’s very hard to play good tennis in conditions like that. I just had to hang in and hope he started to give me some opportunities. It was about being patient and taking my chance. I’m just relieved because that would have been a horrible way to go out of the Olympics.”
When Murray made his Olympic debut in Beijing he admitted he tried to enjoy it too much, all that changed in London and gold was the reward.
Rio brands itself a party capital but Murray needs to be more glum in the sun ahead of his quarter-final with Steve Johnson, a player he’s beaten in their only previous match in Shanghai last year.
“I’m going to have to play a lot better than that,” he added.
“The quarter-finals are a big match at the Olympics because win and it means a guaranteed match for a medal.
“He’s had a very good win in his third round match and hopefully the conditions will be better so we can both have a good match.”
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