Andy Murray’s body and game may not be quite at their best as he makes his return from back surgery – although neither are that far off – but the old cussed, competitive fire still burns bright. And when the Scot thinks he has been done down, he fights back.
As he did everything in his power to try and get past Roger Federer and into the semi-finals of the Australian Open in a dramatic match in the Rod Laver Arena yesterday, he was two sets down to the mighty Swiss and approaching the sharp end of the third set. And then Federer appeared to hit a ball – a winner – off a double bounce. Television replays showed that the ball had, indeed bounced twice, so the point should have gone to Murray, but the umpire, Pascal Maria did not call it.
Worse still, Federer asked Maria to stop the replays being shown on the big screens at either end of the court.
“He asked for them to stop showing it on the video because I think he knew it bounced twice,” Murray said.
“At that speed it’s very difficult to see but it was right in front of the umpire.
“They can’t use video [to decide] that but Roger asked them not to show it on video because it looks controversial and doesn’t look great.
“But it’s fine for them to show videos of me every time I get annoyed on the court or whatever – it’s up there the whole bloody match.”
The controversy seemed to fire up Murray who suddenly found another gear to take the match into a fourth set but it was still not quite enough. He eventually lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 but he had passed another huge test in his recovery programme. He battled for three hours and 20 minutes and pushed the resurgent Swiss to the very limits – that was, at least, progress despite the bitter disappointment of the loss.
“That’s the highest level I’ve played at in a long time,” he said. “My serve slowed down a bit in the fourth set, especially the first couple points when I was getting up after the change of ends. But, you know, I hung in well. I pushed through it, almost got myself back in the match.
“I’ve come a long way in four months. You know, I mean, obviously right now I’m very disappointed. But I thought I did a good job getting myself in good shape to be competitive at this level. I wasn’t too far away in the end.”
Murray will decide today what his immediate plans are. He has a Davis Cup tie coming up in San Diego at the end of next week but he also has to make sure he recovers properly from his exertions yesterday. Ideally, he would like to go home for a few days but sitting on an airplane for 24 hours to get back to London before boarding another for 12 hours to get to California may not be what his back specialist recommends. “I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll go home for a couple of days because if I don’t, I’m going to be away for about five or six months. So I may go back through London for a couple of days or stay here for a couple of days.”
Meanwhile, Federer’s thoughts are turning to a first Australian Open title since 2010. “Physically I know that I can do it,” said the 32-year-old.
“I have all these opportunities now. I’ve been hitting the ball really well for some time now, so it’s just nice that it all came together in a big match against Murray like this. It was a great game on many levels today, not just physically. Also just mentally it was tough. Then I really played some good tennis. I was very happy.”
l Murray is odds-on to never win the Australian Open during his career according to Ladbrokes. After losing yesterday to Federer, the bookies now chalk up Murray at 8-11 to never get his hands on the first Grand Slam of the tennis year, and even money that he does. Federer’s odds of winning title No 18 have been cut to 5-2, but he’ll have to make it past favourite Rafael Nadal (1-2) first.