All change for Andy Murray as he plots route to fourth round

Andy Murray hits a backhand during training ahead of his fourth-round match with Joao Sousa. Picture: AP
Andy Murray hits a backhand during training ahead of his fourth-round match with Joao Sousa. Picture: AP
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Variety may be the spice of life but it can keep you awfully busy.

This morning, Andy Murray will attempt to plot a path past Joao Sousa for a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open. That means that, for the third time in the past week, he will have to come up with a totally different game plan and he will have had to develop completely different practise routines. Then again, that is why they pay the world 
No 2 the big bucks: the ability to analyse and then unravel the opposition’s defences is his greatest weapon.

To get this far, Murray has beaten Alexander Zverev and Sam Groth with remarkable ease and, approaching today’s encounter with Sousa, he can take plenty of comfort from the fact that he has dropped just one set to the Portuguese world No 33 in six meetings. This morning will be the third time they have met at Melbourne Park.

“They’re three very, very different players,” Murray said. “Zverez, in comparison to Sousa, has a huge serve and a fantastic backhand, while Sousa doesn’t serve as well but moves terrifically well and uses his forehand more.

“Groth is the opposite to both of them, coming forward all the time, using a lot of slice and attacking as much as possible.

“Preparation-wise, before my last match I worked on a lot of passing shots and lobs and did a lot on my return, because I knew that was going to be important against Groth, whereas, although in the next round those things will still be important, I’m aware that there’s going to be a lot of longer rallies and it’s about being more solid and consistent from the back of the court.

“So this time we’ll spend more time in practice working on groundstrokes, which hopefully will stand me okay.”

Sousa, though, has a plan of attack of his own. He trained with Rafael Nadal in the off-season and, after playing better than he thinks he has played before to beat Santiago Giraldo on Thursday, he believes he is ready to give Murray a run for his money today.

“In Portugal we say the third is the one, so perhaps they are right,” he said hopefully. “I spent one week in Manacor with Rafa preparing for this season. I think we did great work. We worked very hard. It was a great week and a great level of tennis. We were both really happy with the work we did. The last time I played Andy was at Roland Garros. I took a set off him, which was very good. I think I played well, and I think I’ve been playing better and better against him. We’ll see.”

Unfortunately, Sousa forgot to ask Nadal about the best way to beat Murray and, with the former world No 1 now back at home, beaten in the first round in Melbourne by Fernando Verdasco, he is on his own when it comes to formulating a game plan.

He may have to think carefully, though, as Murray has clearly been hard at work on the practise courts. He admitted on Thursday that he has not been serving particularly well this past week but he is pleased with the improvements in his second serve, the one part of his game identified as a weakness by most commentators.

Last year, the Scot’s second serve averaged a limp 85mph in his first-round match at the Open, which compared to Serena Williams’s second serve average of 93mph in the final against Maria Sharapova, did not make for impressive reading. Twelve months on, and Murray was averaging 93mph on the second delivery against Zverev in the opening round and pinged one in at 108mph.

If Sousa is hoping to pounce from the baseline and attack Murray’s second serve, he may be in for a bit of a shock.